Bart on his way to the top

Business Management student Bart de Vries is giving his all: a career as a model. A conversation about objectification, rejections and faraway countries. “I feel incredibly privileged.”

What it’s like in Mexico City? “It’s at least 20 degrees outside every day, so the weather is definitely better than in the Netherlands”, says Bart via WhatsApp in between castings. “Haven’t seen the city yet, but I’m here for three months so I definitely will!”

In June, Bart took part in the modelling competition Mister International Netherlands. Before that he had only taken a few humble steps towards a modelling career, but he didn’t get many assignments. The 21-year-old Bart didn’t win, but he was chosen as the most photogenic man. Then everything started to go fast. In August he signed a contract with a modelling agency and two weeks later he was on an airplane to Istanbul. Bart is currently in Mexico to conquer the modelling market.

‘You’ll have more chances abroad’

Seven castings in one day
His modelling agency is trying to “put him on the map” mostly outside of western countries, as Bart describes it. “Customers are always looking for exotic models to sell their clothing lines. They want someone who looks just a bit different, something that appeals to people. “In foreign markets you will have a better chance as a model.” After arriving, the first task as a model is to show your face as much as possible in the first couple of weeks, through castings at clients, mostly clothing brands. “In those first few weeks in Turkey I had three or four castings a day, from Monday to Friday. But I’ve also had seven in a single day.”

Sometimes this makes Bart feel like he’s not in control of his own life. “You’ll get a call from the chauffeur who says: I’m waiting downstairs, you may come. You’ll be driven to the place where you have your casting, having no idea where you are, only knowing sort-of which client it is. You need to look slick, which means cool, well-dressed and your hair needs to look good. The next part is basically objectification, at the casting you are a product to show clothing on an online store or as part of an advertisement. They look at you, sometimes letting you try some clothes on, consult each other and shake hands. If they are interested, you leave your information behind and then you get back in the car to the apartment.”

After a casting like that you won’t immediately be told whether you get the assignment or not. Sometimes you’ll hear nothing and sometimes you’ll receive a message weeks later, says Bart. “I have also had castings where we were in a group, they’d look at us and said: thanks for coming, but no one will be chosen, you can leave again. They have only seen you for a minute.”

Positive energy
Bart had to get used to those rejections. “If you let the rejections get to you and you hold on to those feelings, it will influence your next castings. You need to stay positive and radiate positive energy every time to leave a good impression. Right after a casting I try to let it go, whether it went good or bad. Soon after I started to do castings without even thinking. Casting is done, on to the next one.”

The castings in Istanbul got him four jobs. “Not the most glamourous jobs, mostly what they call ‘e-com’, photos for online stores. It is the bulk of the modelling world. You’ll probably recognise it from the H&M, when you go to their website and you look for a shirt or sweater. You put on a short, strike a few poses and bam, pictures, pictures, pictures and you put on different clothing. That is what you do whole day long. I have looked at my own work, I can be seen on the websites of LTB Jeans, Colin’s Jeans, Amazon and a Turkish brand, Coulfate.”

“But what I’d rather do is campaigns or tv commercials, so you can be the face of every commercial of a brand. Those jobs pay a lot better, not only for the model but for the whole team as well, that includes photographers, stylists and make-up artists. That creates a good mood because you’re working on something beautiful together.”

Gorgeous assignments
And you get way better pictures for your own portfolio, which is way more than just a business card in the modelling world. “E-com is very basic; you won’t put that in there. I have just started modelling so I just take every offer I get. As soon as your portfolio grows clients can see that you have experience and you’ll be booked way quicker and for better assignments. It could happen that I receive a call when I am at school saying, ‘You can go abroad for two days for that and that assignment.’ But that won’t happen for a while I believe.”

Becoming rich isn’t happening anytime soon. “If you spend time abroad, the agency pays for everything: plane ticket, accommodation and everything else you need. As soon as I finish the assignments that money will be used to pay those costs. It could happen that I receive many assignments that pay above minimum wage, but it could also happen that I won’t get any assignments for a month and they could say: listen, this is only costing us money so we’re sending you home. When I look at how Istanbul went… I have earned quite a bit, but after deducting the costs the revenue isn’t that high.”

Uncertain existence
Being dependant on assignments makes the modelling life quite unreliable, says Bart. “You won’t know ahead of time what you’ll earn. It can go fast, but I find it useful to keep my options open.” That’s why Bart is still studying and didn’t put his studies on hold. “This is my second study programme; I won’t quit again. In Istanbul I talked to a model, he was already thirty years old and quit studying, so he was in a pickle deciding where to go. That’s when I thought: I really don’t want that; I always want the option to fall back on my study programme degree.”

Despite the uncertain existence, Bart fully enjoys his new career. “It is amazing that I can see the world this way and meet all kinds of people. I feel incredibly privileged.”

Text: Wouter van Emst
Black-and-white photo’s: Manny Fontanilla

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