Marla Carlton photographed for "The Face Magazine" by Kate Garner.

10 Crazy Things Models Do When Young and Broke in NYC

I did a lot of crazy things as a model in the 90s. It’s a combination of being in a strange place with no family, no money and being very young. Young people do crazy things too but being a model puts you in special circumstances. I’ve put together a list of 10 things (in random order) either my friends or myself did as model in NYC because we were broke. Why are they Crazy? Well, crazy because most items are things you do when you are broke and many on my list were unique opportunities available to fashion models.

1. Move with a taxi. As a new model in NYC, more often than not you lived in a model’s apartment with bunk beds in every room, dirty dishes piled in the sink and roaches running around the floor. If you were lucky enough, you might meet a few girls and scrounge up enough money to rent an apartment together and get out of the model’s apartment. I was too young to rent a UHaul or car (age 25 and up) so my only option, taxi. It was a strategy. We kept all of our stuff hidden until one of us hailed a cab then one person got in and waited while another one loaded the trunk. The drivers were usually not happy when they saw all the stuff piled up from several girls moving. It usually took more than one trip, and we had to work together, but it was the only way to move.

2. Work as a coat check girl. I never did this but a lot of my friends did. I was lucky to work enough in NYC at the start of my career to pay rent and have money for cabs, subways, food and decent clothing. Two of my roommates worked as coat check girls — a winter job,obviously. They worked strictly for tips, and it paid well. On average, about $200 per night in NYC. Sometimes more, if they had a big tipper.

3. Date investment bankers. Yep. A lot of models dated investment bankers. It was a win win relationship. Free dinners, free Broadway shows, free weekends away. In return, they had a trophy. If you saw Wolf of Wall Street that was pretty true to life. I never dated rich “banker” boys. I tried a time or two, but for whatever reason, I was always attracted to the struggling artist, tortured soul types. We struggled together. It was more romantic.

4. Play an extra on soap operas. I have to admit, I did this. I was an extra on Another World. I was usually the girl working out in the background of the gym. I met an actor on this show. He ended up inviting me to join him on an episode of Robin Leach’s Runaway with the Rich and Famous in Halifax, Nova Scotia. That was an adventure. We had fun. He was a nice guy, but it didn’t really go anywhere. He wasn’t my type.

5. Serve drinks at a topless club. Let me preface this with, I didn’t do this, but I thought about it. I had friends that did. It was a nice club called Stringfellows, just a block from my agency, IMG. The girls made about $1,000 in tips a night. Not bad for walking around serving drinks, lunch or dinner. It was almost like being a Playboy Bunny but not quite. The tassles on the boobs took it down a notch, in my opinion. There was no touching allowed so you really just had to be willing to walk around topless for all the investment bankers to drool on you. I wasn’t up for the challenge.

6. Pose for German Playboy for $25K+. German Playboy liked fashion models to pose nude for their magazine. They paid a premium and many girls did this to make some money. The photos were tasteful. I opted out, but not before I did a test for them. The shoot wasn’t nude, just provocative. I did however work for American Playboy—in their fashion section, fully clothed, in business suits, in a Gentleman’s club on the Upper East Side — very refined.

7. Eat Thanksgiving Dinner with a sheik at Tavern on the Green. You can’t turn down an opportunity like this, especially when you don’t have a lot of money. Plus, it’s fun! A friend invited me, and I jumped at the chance. It was a group of about 12 people. Tavern on the Green was an enchanting restaurant in the middle of Central Park, one of my favorites! Thanksgiving Dinner! Hell yes. I’m there. It turned out to be quite an enchanting evening because it started snowing shortly after dinner – the first snow of the season. There is nothing quite like the first snow of the season in NYC.

8. Fly to Japan under contract. Some might say this is not crazy. I disagree. I never went. Why? Well, for one thing, I was too tall, and I had the privilege of working for Japanese catalog in Paris. I didn’t like the 40 shots per day, per girl (they had 2 girls and shot 80 shots total – before digital cameras). I also didn’t enjoy being dressed and undressed like a mannequin while I just stood there. They unzipped my zipper, pulled down my pants, put new ones on, unbotted my top, everything. They didn’t want me to move. I was in the back of a large van, driving all over Paris in between shots. I was surprised they let me sit down while driving. They even had box preordered box lunches for us to eat while driving to another location. Based on that shoot here are the Top three reasons why Japan wouldn’t have worked for me: 1) I couldn’t read any street signs and had no idea how to find my way around. Even though I would have been picked up by car and dropped off every day, it still made me nervous. I’m a control freak. I like to know where I am and where I’m going at all times. 2) I would have to  work every single day or the work week with people prodding at me from 7am to 7pm for 2 months straight. 3) Complete isolation – difficult to call, no time to call and no friends. I just couldn’t bear the thought. There were only beepers back then so no cell phones to call internationally. I envied the girls who could do it because they came home with $50K in cash. It was appealing.

9. Share a 180 sq. ft. studio apartment with 3 girls. When I first moved to NYC, I lived in a model’s apartment. It had 2 bedrooms, a living room, eat in kitchen and 1 bathroom. A great apartment at 888 8th Ave. I had a view of the old Studio 54 out my bedroom window. There were 5 of us in this apartment, and we each paid the modeling agency $1,000 a month. That was steep. It was an upscale model’s apartment. Clean, no bunk beds, and no one ever showed up in the middle of the night with luggage. I became good friends with 2 of my roommates. One had narcolepsy. That was interesting. She was from North Carolina. The other girl was from Texas. She was always smiling and had a big heart. We decided to find a cheaper, furnished apartment on the upper East Side for $900 a month ($300 a month each, including utilities). It wasn’t great, but it was ours. The girl from Texas and I shared the double bed. The other girl slept on the pull out couch because half the time she fell asleep on the couch. About a month later, a good friend of mine I had met in Europe came back from Italy. She moved in so now there were four of us. It was tight, but we made it work for about 8 months.

10. Deal in illegal substances. Some models, myself not included, procured illegal substances that they then sold to their “friends,” at jobs, at castings, at parties, etc. They were living on the edge but they had tons of spending money. I steered clear of illegal avenues for making money. I’d seen enough of that back home along with the year I spent in Paris. It wasn’t my thing.

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