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How to Stay Sane in the City of No Shame


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Janice Dickinson’s rules for success…

page from my journal

Someone kicked my door.

Janice and her sister Debbie stormed into my room. Debbie held a bottle of wine and Janice grabbed and opened my portfolio.

You can throw all this crap out, she said. If it isn’t shot in Paris they call it merde, shitte. You think you have some cute editorials? Some nice Dutch covers? Honey, they’re gonna piss on them. They’re gonna make you feel like hideous shit.

She pulled the cork from the bottle and filled our plastic cups.

So prepare yourself for the worst.

I wondered what she meant as I watched her, manically moving her bare feet back and forth through the orange shag carpet.

She never stopped talking.

Paris is not Amsterdam, she said. Things are different here, harder, and you’ll only work if you follow my, the Janice Dickinson, rules of success and survival.

Janice had become a star overnight but she was also pretty wild. I wasn’t sure what could I learn from her.

She put one finger in my face as if we were counting together.

The Janice Dickinson rule to success … ONE, she said, you need fabulous editorials for your portfolio. TWO – you have to get booked by ELLE, they do the hottest shoots – once you’re in ELLE, everyone else books you. THREE – the only way into ELLE is through the photographers, Demarchelier, Toscani, Bensimon, and Jean Loup Sieff. So. you have to make your booker send you to them and get these guys to notice and want you. Do whatever it takes. Every photographer you see is a horny rat. Don’t bother with any of them, if they’re not well known they’re not worth it. And always make sure you focus on what you need. Great pictures for your book.

Her loud raspy voice and in-my-face attitude made me claustrophobic. This room was too cramped for her, with the bright walls that were painted in a pattern of a psychedelic mushroom cloud of yellow, orange and red.

A-bomb on acid, she said. Mine is blue. Same decorator, different LSD I guess.

Two white molded plastic beds sat along one wall. Another globular blob was both my closet and desk and I had to walk across my bed to get to a bathroom where the toilet and the sink overlapped.

So my sweetie, she said and poked two fingers in my ribcage.

Next is my rule for survival. These rooms suck, every night you’ll wanna escape. But as soon as you go out alone French men will hit on you – like they’re cavemen who think every girl wants to get laid.

I didn’t believe her. In Amsterdam I always went out by myself. Why would Paris be so different?

Believe me, she said. You’ll find out. BUT. Armand, Christa’s millionaire partner, provides the solution. I call them the Playboys.

Who are the playboys? I asked.

Greasy rich guys who like to play with us, you know, party boys, jet-setters. They show up every night. Like dating models is all they do.

You mean the agency uses us as escorts?

Janice hooted.

You’re so bubblegum. Armand invests in this agency for the perks and guess what, we’re the perks!

I’m not a perk.

Honey, just use these guys the way they use you and you’ll have fun.

She got up and stretched theatrically.

Chill, you’re gonna be huge.

Debbie had not said a word, as if they had an agreement that Janice made all the noise, but on her way out, as she stood in my doorway, Debbie turned, blew me a kiss and whispered:

Sleep tight, don’t let those French bed bugs bite.

I lay down on my bed.

What was that all about?

It was still light outside and people were laughing in the street below. I was restless, my energy bounced off the walls and I had to go somewhere. See the Eiffel tower. Walk along the Champs Elysee. Have a glass of wine on a terrace. But I hesitated. What if there still were playboys downstairs, waiting for me?

This is an excerpt, for more from THE BLACKBERRY DIET

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Meet Janice Dickinson

Excerpt from The BlackBerry Diet:

photo: Jaap de Graaf

I was seventeen when I left home for Paris.

Two weeks after I’d finished high school and one year after my stepfather ran off with our babysitter.

On June 7th 1976 I arrived at the bottom of the stairs that led to Christa’s Modeling Agency.

Covers from Elle, Marie Claire, and Vogue went up the walls and familiar faces stared down at me and seemed to say:

We’re much more beautiful than you’ll ever be – go home.

Home was not an option. I was done with all that; My childhood, school and my wild mother who was indulging her new-found sexual freedom by taking a different lover for each day of the week.

All done. Even if these other models were prettier and skinnier and sexier, I’d been invited by Johnny Casablancas, the world’s hottest model agent, to meet with his partner Christa and try out for the couture shows in July.

There was no way was I going back. Modeling was a stepping stone to my dream career as a fashion designer. Through modeling I’d meet famous designers, wear amazing clothes and make enough money to go to art college.

I hesitated and someone tapped my back.

Allez. Allez. Go, go,

I’m Katja from Amsterdam, I’m here to see Christa.

Ah oui, I’m Christa, the woman said.

I followed her upstairs and she left me behind in a small reception room.

Purple psychedelic letters that spelled Christa were all over the walls and a patent white sofa was jammed between the wall and a door. Pictures of Pat Cleveland, Linda Morand, Kim Alexis and other familiar faces surrounded me. The stale smell of Gauloise cigarettes and strong black coffee made me nauseous and again I felt the urge to leave. Maybe I should enroll at the Rietveld Art Academy in Amsterdam.

Behind a glass door was the bookings room and I could see four bookers working the phones from a series of desks crowded with photos, calendars and charts. They were busy talking to clients. They pulled model work sheets from a central shelf and checked available dates for each girl. On the other side of the room three bored-looking models leaned against a windowsill. One of them, she looked familiar, must’ve cracked a joke and the other two laughed. Then she turned and stared at me like she’d just spotted the ugliest creature in the universe. To my horror she moved towards me. She pressed her face against the glass door and pushed it open with her forehead. This girl was crazy and she scared me.

Hallo, I said.

My voice shook.

I’m Katja from Amsterdam. Christa told me to wait here.

Then I knew. She was Janice Dickinson – the hottest model in Paris. She was the one, the badass American, on all those covers in the stairway.

Janice grabbed my clammy hand and dragged me into the office. The bookers and the other models stared at me but no one said a word. Even the phones seemed to stop ringing.

Janice turned around and put her face against mine.

I wondered if she was going to kiss me but instead she sniffed the top of my head, my hair, my face, my shoulders, around my back, to my breasts and down every inch of my body. She stopped at my crotch like a dog and made a disgusted face. Everyone laughed. I wanted to send her flying through the glass.

But I just stood like a stupid grinning giraffe.

Honey, she announced. You’ve got what it takes! Welcome to Paris, the capitol of lonely horny models.

more from  The BlackBerry Diet:


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The BlackBerry Diet – a novel by Barbara de Vries

“Youth is something very new.

Twenty years ago no one mentioned it.”

– Coco Chanel.

The BlackBerry Diet


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when I worked with Helmut Newton …

One day Helmut Newton booked me for a swimming-pool shoot. I was thrilled at the prospect of working with him. All the top models had worked with Helmut at least once. He liked tall, domineering, angry, sexy Amazons. I could do S&M, I could be his kind of girl. He was working on a famous series of models in swimming pools, contrasting the cool blue water with the black of their sunglasses and bathing suits, the red of their nails and lips, their ebony hair, long tan legs and backs, curved sexy bottoms and breasts.

Mine was an ad for Smirnoff Vodka.

The turquoise pool, my long naked back next to a martini glass.

It seemed simple enough.

Helmut arrived at Ringo Starr’s estate in a black stretch limo, took one look at Ringo’s pool, another look at the sky and declared both inadequate. He needed bright sunshine, a rare event in North London, and the pool was too shabby.

He ignored me like I was some assistant and disappeared back into his limo. The shoot was cancelled. I was paid five hundred pounds for showing up, and a week later ten of us, hair, make-up, stylist, ad-people, assistants, flew to an infinity pool carved into the Portofino mountainside.

Throughout our first dinner Helmut entertained us with witty but brutal anecdotes, like when he had a fireman’s hose pointed between the model’s legs and the jet of ice-cold water accidentally hit her in the crotch causing her to scream in pain. Helmut told the story as if this blast had actually given the girl an orgasm and everyone laughed.

I’d never been to Italy before and I ordered antipasti, Osso Bucco and Tiramisu.

I was in heaven but Helmut stated that if I kept eating this much I’d look like a Dutch heifer next to my fine-boned glass of Smirnoff Vodka and for the next two days June, his wife/assistant, ordered my meals of salad and fruit. I starved but I was terrified of Helmut and his cruel sense of humor, so I kept quiet.

I had my back to him in the shot while he said things like: She looks like a guy from behind, get me Dalma or Jerry, or anyone else who knows what she’s doing, Her hair is too short, her elbows too pointy.

It was hard to model with my back, sitting on the edge of a pool, legs in the water. There wasn’t much I could do to look different, sexier, curvier, more S&M, but I hoped my back looked angry, because I hated him, and I put all this emotion into my butt, my vertebrae, my neck, shoulder-blades, arms, hair, earlobes, and skin.

Afterwards, when I saw the ad, I realized he’d been obnoxious on purpose. He wanted that tension of anger. It showed. The ad was great and I was proud to have a Helmut Newton shot in my portfolio.