The Runway

The Model Diaries: The Rush of Rejection in Paris

She went to Paris in search her big break. Instead, she befriended a driver and fell in love with the city.

Lionel Bonaventure/AFP/Getty

“So?! Paris!! How was it?!” my friend asked me excitedly as we met up for a drink at our favorite little bar. I had recently returned back to my home base after a short trip to Paris. I’d had meetings set up with some of the biggest modeling agencies in the world. To put it into perspective: these are the agencies that assign the $60,000 Dior cosmetics campaign, fill the catwalks during Paris Fashion Week, and provide Vogue with bodies to dress.

“No idea.”

“What do you mean? Didn’t they tell you anything?”

“They just said they would be in touch,” I replied, feigning disinterest.

“When do you hear from them?”

“Who knows? Maybe I won’t hear from them at all. Maybe I’ll hear something in a week. Maybe I’ll hear something after Christmas. But I’m not getting my hopes up.”

“Tell me what happened.” She lit a cigarette. And so I told her.

My days were long, but quick. I had set myself up with a driver to shuffle me from meeting to meeting. He picked me up from my hotel at 8 a.m. He was an older man named Frank in his late 50s, maybe early 60s. He was long and graceful; he had perfect skin and thin, delicate eyebrows. His eyelashes suggested the tiniest hint of mascara. Beautiful elegant hands grasped the steering wheel.

As I settled into the backseat of the cozy sedan, Frank struck up conversation.

“So you’re here to model?” he asked politely.

“Yes,” I said surprised. “Sort of. Well, I hope so.”

“I was a model once,” he said as we merged with Paris’ morning traffic. “1970. Nina Ricci.”

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“Really? Tell me about it.”

“My father was a military man. He didn’t like it. So, what is the first address we are going to?” he said, briskly changing the subject. The conversation of his modeling career was over. From then on all we talked about were the streets of Paris, and where on our route would be the best places to stop for coffee.

As our car sped along the Boulevard de la Madeleine, I was filled with hope and excitement. Any nervousness I had that morning was gone. I clutched my portfolio, and smiled as I looked at the window. This had to be the day my life would surely change.

In the end, all my meetings in Paris would follow roughly the same formula. I’d be greeted in a lobby, and then I would sit and wait while a model scout looked through my book, carefully examining each photograph. If they weren’t interested, only one scout would look through my book, ask me a few vague questions, then shut the book before showing me to the door.

If they did seem to like what they saw, however, they would take my book to the other scouts and booking agents, and they would all look through the book together. If they were really interested, they would take a few Polaroids.

Whatever the thought, the meetings always ended in the same way: “We will be in touch with your mother agency, enjoy Paris,” a final handshake and then, au revoir.

Between meetings I stopped at a café my driver Frank recommended. It was a cozy place, and because it was only noon, virtually deserted except for the token regulars standing at the bar, sipping their coffees. I ordered tea and oeufs de mayonnaise.

I thought over the first half of the morning; five meetings in total. It was hard to parse any of the reactions. A few had definitely written me off; one, however, had shown some interest. They mentioned they were casting a campaign for Garnier Fructis and that they adored my hair. I wondered if a mention of a casting for a major company was some sort of sign. I would find out a few weeks later that, no it wasn’t.

As I sipped my tea, I stared out of the café window onto Rue de Choiseul. I never really wanted anything professionally for myself so badly as I did at that moment. College was not very interesting to me, and after a short-lived career in journalism, I grew bored with that as well. Suddenly I was in Paris, going from chic office to chic office. I wanted this to be more than a day of meetings; I wanted this trip to lead to a career. I wondered if my face would ever hang in the windows of the luxury flagship shops along the Faubourg Saint-Honoré.

For the rest of the afternoon I tried to keep my focus on each meeting, flying on the adrenaline rush of walking into these agencies, checking my hair in elevators. But when Frank dropped me off at my hotel and said good bye (I really was going to miss him! Whenever I go back to Paris again I promise you, Frank will be the first call I make!), I suddenly had a feeling of frustration and disappointment settle upon me. The day was done. There were no more meetings to go to. Nothing had been decided. My fate was now entirely out of my power. The whole day had really been just a moment—a fun, fantastical moment of running around Paris as a young woman with a modeling portfolio. And the more I thought about the day, the more anxious I became.

And so, as I slipped out of my “model uniform” (black riding pants, black turtle neck, a leather jacket and very cool black boots—minimal, basic and not too much) and into my clothes for dinner, I decided simply to have a good time in Paris. It would be a waste of a weekend to be miserable.

“What’s going to happen next do you think?” my friend asked me again, taking a deep drag of her millionth cigarette.

“Probably nothing.” I ordered another drink.