Your poster is everywhere. Three thousand people are screaming for you, throwing their barely-there clothes at you.
You’re high, not only from the excitement, but the drugs too – drugs you got for free like heroin, cocaine, ecstasy, and plain-old marijuana.
They think you’re a rock star. You forget you’re faking it.
Some people became famous by pretending to be famous. “Tyler,” a former male supermodel-turned actor, recalls his days “dancing for dollars” in Milan.
“I thought I was Elvis.”
Milan is the boot camp for male models, and dancing for dollars is a rigorous exercise the potential catwalkers and poster boys must endure. It may sound facetious, but dancing on a cube in Italy is what separates the males from the male supermodels.
To those who read Vogue, Milan may be the fashion capital of the world. To those who strive to be in Vogue, Milan may be the fashion victim capital of the world.
Models flock to Milan in hopes of catching their big break. Instead of catching their big break most models become broke.
Rent and food are of haute-couture costs. Without working papers, and with an Italian vocabulary limited to Olive Garden’s menu, dancing for dollars is how Italian modelling agencies can exploit the vulnerable.
From CBC documentaries that delve into the sexual exploitation of fashion models, to ABC news reports describing modelling’s “…not so underground world of parties, cocaine, [and] easy sex,” the fashion industry is becoming exposed.
Ian Halperin, a Canadian journalist, went undercover in the fashion world after discovering his buddy had horrifying experiences and was sexually harassed, while pursuing a modelling career in Milan.
Halperin documented his findings in his book, Shut Up and Smile.
After interviewing over 300 models, Halperin found that agents are more interested in getting models between the sheets, than getting them good tear sheets.
Halperin wrote, “Every model I interviewed admitted that they were coerced into doing dirty deeds, like sleeping with their agent or turning tricks, before they made it big.”
Perhaps surprising, he said the world of male models is equally as bad as the world of female models.
“[The agents] don’t just give you drugs so you’ll have a good time.” But, with all the glamour and pomp, it’s easy to lose yourself.
“You contact an Italian agency and it’s not long before you become a rock star.
“They send you a plane ticket, pick you up in a limo, pay for your food and hotel, and pay you to show-up at huge discos around Italy three or four times a week.”
Tyler explains that agencies and disco club owners pay the guys $300 to $500 US a night - more if they just hop up on a cube a dance for a few minutes.
But, not only do the guys get paid in cash, they also get powdery bonuses.
“Discos in Italy are not what you’re used to. You can walk up to the bar and get coke.” Tyler is not talking about the kind you sip through a straw, rather the kind you snort through one.
He goes on to explain that people think the guys are stars, because that’s how they’re advertised. Everybody wants to see the “Amercani” models.
Girls come. Guys follow. Disco owners lure the Euro.
With all of the free drugs, free alcohol, and free sex, you start to burn out.
It’s easy to forget you are there to become famous says Tyler.
“The reason you go to Milan in the first place is to take advantage of the world’s best designers and photographers. But, they end up taking advantage of you.”
Models need portfolios of their pictures to get work. Only by working can they create portfolios. So, even the good jobs in Milan don’t pay well, because the designers and photographers know the models need them.
“After six months to a year of dancing for dollars, if you haven’t already burned yourself out, you better get it together or you’ll get burned,” says Tyler.
“You’ll be a marked a dollar-boy and nobody will want you anymore.”
But, you’ll always have the memories of dancing on a cube.
You were a star. You were a box star.