I arrived in Istanbul at about 2:30 p.m. My agency had arranged for a driver to pick me up from Atatürk Airport. He spoke very little English, and I speak absolutely no Turkish, so our drive was in silence. We drove for what felt like forever to a sort of dilapidated commercial part of Istanbul on the Asian side of the city. I nervously looked at the sad looking building we had pulled up in front of, surrounded only by highways and empty construction sites.
“Is this the apartment?” I asked, bracing myself while chanting in my head, It’s part of the experience, you are on an adventure, not a luxury vacation.
“No. Casting.” My driver indicated that I follow him. I pinched my cheeks to add some color to my face, hoping that it would make me look less like I had just stumbled off a plane and threw my greasy hair into a bun.
This was a routine casting, and done quite quickly. After trying on two or three bikini tops, my driver reappeared and brought me back to the car.
“Now we go to apartment,” he informed me. I nodded sleepily.
Fortunately, my apartment is located on the European side of Istanbul, in the Şişli district. Istanbul is a massive city, for those who do not know, and one can be stuck in traffic for hours and never leave the city. The European side contains the Galatea tower, the Beyogolou district, the things one reads about when learning about Istanbul. It is a happening place, although, in all honesty, most of Istanbul to me looks like Beijing meets suburban Paris. My apartment is modern, in a cozy building. There are four bedrooms and 12 girls. It feels more like a cabin at summer camp than a real living situation. There is only one bathroom and very few mirrors. (Weird, as it is a model apartment.) My room has three beds crammed into it, but it could be worse: one girl told me at her last place they squeezed 10 girls into a two-bedroom apartment. How? Bunk beds. My roommates are from all over, but mainly Eastern Europe. The one exception is a Dutch girl.
After I’d met the other models, another driver named Atti, short for Attila (who I’d learn would be our regular driver and spoke English), arrived in a minibus I have started calling the “model mobile” to take us to another casting. I hadn’t even unpacked yet.
“We always go in a large group because of the traffic,” the Dutch girl, a sweet girl named Edie, explained to me.
“How many castings do we have today?” I asked.
“I don’t know, but you can’t ask Atti.”
“Well you can, he just won’t tell you. Maybe because it’s your first day, he will explain. But he never tells us. He just gets mad.”
She shrugged. “That’s just the way he is.”
We arrived at a large studio space. A few girls were playing foosball in the entry: five girls with one Turkish man. As we entered the main room, I realized this was a typical combination: five foreign girls, one Turkish man. The casting was held in a way I had never experienced before.
We sat in our agency groups; sometimes models from the other agencies said hi to girls in my agency and chatted, but mostly everyone kept to themselves. A group of smoking Turkish men were assembled in front of a set—all white, lots of lights and a huge white block in the middle. One of the clients was smoking a hookah. Not kidding. Our drivers/guides all went to the group of smoking Turkish men and started talking. Then, one by one, each agency name would be called and the five girls would go and stand on the white block, all in one line. A man would come up to them and take their books and then consult with his colleagues. If they liked you, you got to try on an outfit. If they didn’t, you returned to your seat until your driver herded your group back into the car. At the same time, your Turkish guide/driver would be talking you up, as if he was trying to sell you like a rug at the bazaar.
“They aren’t going to like us,” Edie murmured to me.
“We don’t have big breasts. It’s a problem—in Istanbul they love big breasts.
“Really?” I immediately regretted wearing a sports bra to the casting. Normally, having a large chest can create difficulties—I was told by an agency in Tel Aviv to lie to clients about my bra size, as anything above a B cup made clients nervous (if one is doing high fashion, editorial, or runway). I made a mental note to wear a push-up bra for the rest of my time in Turkey.
“Yeah everyone here has implants. Yesterday a woman asked me why I didn’t just get implants. I told her, no money!” She laughed.
“They do castings like this in China, it’s not so unusual. But it’s the same in Guangzhou: no breasts equals no jobs.”
“That’s why all the Brazilian girls get fake boobs,” another girl added.
I have a feeling this month in Turkey is going to be a very absurd but interesting month. It’s part of the experience, you are on an adventure, not a luxury vacation.