For years, Ashley Mears would get text messages from Thibault,* a Manhattan club promoter she met when she was a model in the early 2000s.
“He would always text the same thing, like, ‘Oh baby, sushi dinner this weekend. Are you coming?’ ” recalled Mears.
Still, she never blocked his messages. Plenty of her acquaintances knew Thibault: He and his crew were notorious for hanging around modeling agencies, pursuing beautiful young women to fill VIP tables at exclusive nightclubs like 1OAK and Lavo. And she remained intrigued.
So, finally, in 2011 — after she had left New York City for a sociology professorship at Boston University — she responded to one of his invites.
“I was like, ‘I’m curious about this sushi dinner. Yeah, I’ll come,’ ” she said.
Mears wasn’t too impressed with the meal, but what she witnessed at the club after dinner was something else.
“I had never seen bottle service at that scale before,” she said. “There were these parades of the bottles that came out with sparklers, and the cocktail waitresses in these tight, revealing dresses carried these bottles that were burning. I found it really fascinating.”
For the next year and a half, from late 2011 to early 2013, Mears documented this world of promoters and the models they recruited just to hang out and look pretty at events in exchange for nothing more than free drinks, gifts, even rent. Tall, slender with high cheekbones and doe-like eyes, Mears easily embedded herself into the “models and bottles” scene, though at 31 she was a good decade older than many of the other women invited.
As depicted in her new book, “Very Important People: Status and Beauty in the Global Party Circuit” (Princeton University Press), Mears met and interviewed 44 promoters, who are paid by clubs or by rich clients to bring models — referred to as “girls” — to their parties. She followed them through clubs in New York City, mansion fetes in the Hamptons, festivals in Miami and yachts in the Mediterranean. And like the 20 girls she interviewed, who accompanied these men, she got to enjoy $1,700 bottles of champagne, “vacations” in Cannes and St. Tropez and even, briefly, a loft apartment in Union Square.
But she also saw the uglier side of this glamorous life: models losing jobs because they were too hungover to make appointments after partying all night, a client forcing champagne down a girl’s throat when she didn’t look like she was having sufficient fun, even what seemed like low-key extortion and prostitution.
Mears met Thibault the way many models meet promoters: because he was hanging around Soho, looking for attractive young women outside model castings or trendy hangouts like Pinkberry.
Promoters are paid by club owners to bring “quality people” — rich men, celebrities and beautiful women — to their spaces, boosting the image of the club and inspiring wealthy clients to spend their money. They can earn as much as $4,500 a night, depending on how many expensive bottles of champagne they and their girls can squeeze from a wealthy client. Because they often are tasked with doing this five nights a week, they need to keep a robust roster of young, attractive women on their books. And they’ll recruit them by any means necessary.
One promoter Mears interviewed, Ethan, said that he faked his résumé just so he could get an unpaid internship at a top modeling agency.
“I was the first person in there and the last person to leave every day. I put in, like, ten-hour days, for free, five days a week,” said Ethan.
Other promoters had creepier methods — like the guy, now a club owner, who disguised himself as a pizza deliveryman to get past the doorman in a model apartment owned by an agency. (Once inside, he shed his pizza uniform, knocked on doors and invited girls to his parties — he got mostly rejected, but a few agreed.)
Some promoters, like Thibault, were able to get numbers for model apartments owned by agencies and would cold-call these places to invite girls to parties. Once Thibault had Mears call these apartments and asked her to pretend to be a work acquaintance, saying, “Hey, this is Ashley, we met at a casting a while ago.”
“Once I hooked her attention,” Mears writes, “I was to tell her that we were throwing a big party with sushi, and that we would send a driver … to pick her up. I could always add that a celebrity was going to be at the club, like Leonardo DiCaprio or Kanye West.”
Some models didn’t appreciate such tactics — “They are clowns,” one 28-year-old model told Mears of Thibault and his crew.
Yet others found these promoters charming and fun. “Promoters can be the cutest, sweetest, most amazing people ever,” said Nina, a model who hung out with Thibault’s crew — and ended up in a relationship with him.
In fact, the promoters did work hard to cultivate friendships with their girls — taking them bowling, or to the movies, or to kickboxing. They even drove them to their model castings and helped them move apartments, all so they would view going to the club not as something transactional, but as just hanging out with their friend.
The evening always started with a free 10 p.m. dinner at a restaurant, with the expectation that the girl would spend three hours afterward at the club. She was expected to wear a tight dress and high heels — and some promoters even had extra clingy frocks in their cars if a girl came dressed too frumpily.
One model, named Hannah, told Mears about how one girl showed up to a Miami yacht party with an unshaved bikini area. The promoter ordered her to the bathroom to “fix it.”
Nina told Mears of another promoter she had gone out with who tried to prevent her from leaving a club at 1 a.m. He grabbed and shook her, saying, “You’re not gonna leave here … I paid for your drink, so now you stay here at least until 3.”
Most of the time, girls can leave a boring party or sever ties with a bad promoter. But some relationships are more like indentured servitude.
Take the promoter team of Pablo and Vanna (one of the rare female promoters Mears encountered), who kept a model apartment on Union Square. As many as seven models at a time lived there for free — in exchange for accompanying Pablo and Vanna to clubs like Provocateur and Marquee from midnight to 3 a.m. four nights a week.
It’s seductive to be around so much wealth and beauty — it’s an ego-stroke.
“I don’t look at it as a burden but I look at it as work,” said one of their tenants, Renee.
“We’re, like, representing them,” said another, Catherine. “Like, we understand that we’re there to make them look good … We understand that we’re friends but we’re supporting them; we don’t mind.”
Yet Mears said the two weeks she spent living in the apartment were terrible: trash piled up near the front door, Four Loko energy drinks and full ashtrays littered the living room floor and “dried-out contact lenses stuck to the kitchen counter.”
The mandatory partying also took a toll on the tenants’ career aspirations, too — they often couldn’t wake up early enough to go to castings, or would show up at work looking hungover and unhealthy. One Wednesday night, at 2:30 a.m., Catherine wanted to go home, but one of Pablo’s employees, Toby, told her she had to stay due to her housing agreement.
“I love her,” Toby told Mears while downing shots of tequila, “but that bitch has to stay till 3. That’s the rules! Blame it on the game!”
While most clients were just happy to be around beautiful women, some wanted more. And promoters would benefit from it.
As one promoter admitted: “A client gave me a grand just for gathering together the party. And at the end of the night he actually got laid by two of the girls and he gave me another two grand.”
Yet most of the sex happens not between girls and clients, but between girls and promoters. As one promoter told Mears, “If any promoter tries to tell you that f–king isn’t part of his business plan, he’s a liar.”
Even if a promoter and a girl do fall in love, it generally ends badly. After Nina became pregnant with Thibault’s baby, she found out that he was cheating on her with a much younger woman who had been part of their entourage. She left him soon after having the baby and still had not received child support after years of fighting him in court.
So why do young women put up with it? The sore feet, the constant scrutiny, the long hours, the exploitation?
Some women did it to network. One model told Mears she found an internship in finance through the connections she made at clubs. Another, a Columbia University graduate, said she never would have gotten to hobnob with such an elite crowd had she not been a girl at the club.
“You have great conversations with them about what they do and you learn about venture capital or politics or about these sorts of things, so for me it’s sort of an educational thing … How else would I get to talk to a guy who started a venture capital firm or whatever else? I’m not gonna meet him out at a bar on the Lower East Side.”
Yet most of these women aren’t go-getters but young and naive, with little money and few friends in the city. They are happy to receive free meals, free drinks and companionship. Plus for all its problems, nightlife can be dazzling and fun.
As Nora, a 25-year-old ex-model, told her: “You do end up feeling like one of the elite. I know it sounds so stupid, but … it’s being able to hang out with friends and having someone tell you, ‘You’re beautiful,’ so you don’t have to pay for anything.”
Mears agrees. “There are some moments, when the music is right and the venue looks gorgeous and the crowd is in sync that are truly transcendent,” she told The Post. “It’s seductive to be around so much wealth and beauty — it’s an ego-stroke.”
*The names of all promoters and models have been changed.
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