Among Manhattan males of a certain age, particularly the ones who frequent nightclubs, the words model apartment are imbued with a mythical status akin to El Dorado. The location of (and everything else about) these half-dormitory-half-hotels has always been a closely guarded secret. After all, they are, in effect, vaults brimming with underage, vulnerable, and supernaturally beautiful girls.
Which is why a proposal by the ID Models agency to put a live camera feed from an apartment on the Web comes as something of a shock. ID president Paolo Zampolli says the Webcast was conceived as a way to promote the girls, the agency, and its Website, though not everyone sees it that way: The installation of the camera equipment a few weeks ago was greeted with mixed emotions, especially when one girl returned from a trip to find an ominous tower of electronics. "Most of the girls were excited because their families and boyfriends were going to be able to see them from all over the world, but one was unhappy," Zampolli concedes. (Another camera broadcast from ID's booking office for a couple of weeks, though it's currently inoperative pending an equipment upgrade.)
The camera campaign is particularly daring in the wake of the recent BBC documentary that exposed the rampant exploitation of young models and prompted talk of stricter industry guidelines. "If the girls are volunteering, it's not truly an invasion of privacy, but they should be aware of what might happen," says Rhonda Hudson, president of the Models Guild, the industry union affiliated with the AFL-CIO. She suggests that the project be limited to girls over 18 and that they be able to retract their consent at any time. Elite's John Casablancas, no stranger to controversy, labels Zampolli's plan "the ultimate disgrace," perhaps forgetting that Elite executives got the worst of the BBC segment. "Maybe I'm old-fashioned," Casablancas says, "but I find it disgusting. My personal feeling is, anything that encourages a prurient interest in the private lives of models is wrong."
Zampolli expects to have the live feed up and running in the next week or two. "The girls will get major exposure," he enthuses. The camera is installed in only one of the three ID apartments in the city; those who don't want their domestic lives broadcast over the Internet can shack up at one of the agency's other pads. "It's going to be great," says Anne Drion, a 20-year-old Belgian who lives in the wired $5,000-a-month SoHo loft with three other girls and a chaperone. "But we don't want it all the time, of course -- like when we wake up." Zampolli insists that the camera will be on only in the apartment's living room -- not the bedrooms or the shower -- and only from 6 to 9 p.m.
There are plans to broadcast from ID apartments in São Paulo, Milan, and Paris, and Zampolli is creating a separate Website, ModelLife.com, for the apartment feeds. He has grand visions of turning it all into a Real World-type TV show. "Maybe for some of the girls," Drion says hopefully, "it will help to make them famous."