Going for Gold on the Paris Model Circuit
With a fellow band of models -- girls as young as 16, wide-eyed at the sight of the world's fashion capital -- Ioana Timoce strides to her first casting appointment of the day.
It is 9:30 am on the Boulevard St Martin in Paris. With the Paris haute couture shows kicking off on Monday, the 19-year-old steels herself for an intense few hours ahead.
Earlier, nestled in the sofa of the flat she is sharing for the duration of the shows with five Lithuanian girls, she went over the day's schedule with Sylvain Puij, head of the H Model Management modelling agency near the Louvre.
One may just yield the Holy Grail: a catwalk gig for a top designer, or a photo shoot for a magazine.
Before heading out into Paris' sub-zero temperatures, Timoce filled up -- in a manner of speaking -- on a breakfast of cereal, yoghurt, an orange and some vitamin A for her skin.
When the day is done, she will eat some more -- but nothing too sweet or carb-rich of course.
Heads turn as the lithe, chestnut-haired woman in mini-shorts, lightweight coat and black leather boots skips down the steps to the Paris metro, a city map in one hand.
A few hours ago she was in Cluj-Napoca, in Romania, where her parents -- a jurist and a librarian -- live, and where she is studying public relations at university in parallel with her modelling work.
Her first job was three years ago, in Bucharest.
"I didn't know how to act," she told Agence France Presse. "I was biting my lips and clenching my hands."
Since then, with modelling assignments from Berlin to Tokyo and China under her belt, she has picked up confidence.
-- 'I can't expect everyone to like me' --
"You gain a lot of experience and see so many beautiful cities and meet people," she said, reeling off the upsides of the job.
The downsides? "You need to be all the time happy with a smile on your face!"
So far Ioana has scooped catwalk slots for Chanel, Vivienne Westwood and Roberto Cavalli.
But that takes hard work, warns Giani Portmann, a talent scout with two decades' experience and "second mother" to the young woman, spotted at a Bucharest beauty contest in 2008.
For the day-to-day life of most models is a long way from the luxurious lifestyle afforded by a handful of top models -- stars of the profession who won't get out of bed for less than several thousand euros.
Timoce had no idea, when she landed this week in Paris, whether she would clinch a contract and earn anywhere from a few hundred euros for a photo shoot to several thousand for an ad campaign.
She may return home empty-handed, with a bill from her agency to pay back the advance they gave her.
"Whatever the outcome, she will have to pay the agent 20 percent of her earnings, on top of French taxes and social security contributions -- even though she will never benefit from welfare here," Portmann said.
H Model Management is one of 50 modelling agencies in the capital. This morning it is buzzing like a hive with slender young girls, whose profiles -- with photo and measurements -- are tacked to the walls.
A dozen agents are briefing the girls. Timoce has three casting appointments including one with top fashion photographer Ellen von Unwerth, who works for Vogue among others.
And so the marathon begins: from the 15th district in southern Paris, back up to the Brazilian designer Gustavo Lins' atelier in the central Marais quarter, then to a fashion magazine in the city centre.
Hours of metro journeys, and waiting around, for what typically lasts 10 minutes each time.
Ellen von Unwerth snapped her picture. And she tried on a dress by Lins -- though he decided she was too small and too dark-haired for his needs.
But Timoce is happy with her day.
"You have to be realistic. I can't expect everyone to like me. But I like myself as I am -- and I believe in myself," she quipped with a flash of her pale, blue eyes.