For two weeks each spring, the Promenade de la Croisette is transformed into one of the busiest streets in Cannes. The Mediterranean oceans relinquishes its allure, and in place, a red carpet becomes the tour de force that draws legions of people to the cinematic world’s most prestigious event barring the Oscars. At the Cannes Film Festival, attendees are greeted by a heightened buzz. Cameras plague the venue, firing down flashes at everyone, from directors, actors, wealthy sponsors, and many, many escorts.
It’s common knowledge that the Cannes Film Festival is an annual hive for social escorts. While some are hired as companions for errant events and parties, many of the wealthy attendees choose to turn to elite escort agencies to acquire a partner that will essentially be their girlfriend for as long as they desire. Whatever The Beatles crooned about money not being able to buy you love is crushed under the heel of an immensely popular social escapade—The Girlfriend Experience.
The price tag is an average of USD24,000 a day at a top tier agency. Fronting that fee entitles the client to a woman that is attractive, is educated to a degree-level (at minimum), possesses a decorum that can carry her from a party to a state dinner, and is so at ease around you, it's as if she were your actual girlfriend. She is even available to go on tours and holidays with her client, for a nominal fee.
"There are certain companies with escort services where the client would feel uncomfortably aware that he did pay for someone to be with him, but The Girlfriend Experience we provide is not that way at all. The lady is attentive to him, is interested in his conversation, and more. He will feel like he's with someone that genuinely cares for him," explains Claudia Bisette, global manager of one of the world's longest standing elite escort companies, Mynt Models.
Becoming A Girlfriend
To an average person, being able to express authentic interest and concern for someone you've barely met can be a challenge. You've heard about "people persons", a segment of society who are able to carry themselves impeccably in any situation, and genuinely enjoy being around others. This is a trait that is imperative to being hired as a provider of The Girlfriend Experience.
"It's an innate thing that some people have, and others don't. If she can communicate well with me, and make me like her, I'm confident she can make others like, and warm up to her as well," Bisette elaborates.
The intangible skill of being a people person is but one of the laundry list of qualities an elite escort should possess. Top tier companies look for women who have excellent educational achievements, common sense, humility, and a sense of conservatism. Appearance-wise, she should not have modifications, tattoos or "look obvious". While it seems like the list paints a lady who goes to Bible school and thrives on quinoa, the criteria to being an elite escort completely refutes the assumptions that shroud the stereotypically salacious profession. Bisette regales that many of the women who join such agencies are from wealthy, privileged backgrounds who are attempting to achieve independence. They don't wish to be in a dependent relationship, or have someone take care of them. Others are in the midst of saving up for certain financial goals, whether it be to repay student loans, purchase an apartment, or start their own company.
For Mynt, the application process is relatively straightforward, just like any other profession. One would write in via the website, attaching some photographs of themselves, and if selected, would meet with Bisette before entering the big leagues. As little as one out of 10 applicants are chosen to join the company. At another agency, the process is slightly more daunting.
The Best Girlfriend Experience is an agency that specialises in providing its eponymous service to members only. Based in South Africa, the owner, Vanessa, has been running the company for over a decade, attaining a monopoly in the business across Johannesburg, Cape Town, and Sandton. Similar to Mynt, her company caters to the executive level of society, and charges USD7,000 a year for premium membership. Aside from the typical prerequisites, her company employs a thorough background check on each applicant, and has them placed in a social setting with an expanse of alcohol to see if she's able to conduct herself well even when inebriated.
"If she can pass this test, we move on," said Vanessa. "I then arrange any makeovers that are necessary, and have a proper photoshoot for them that most girls can only dream about."
Dates Of A Lifetime
Movies have painted that being rich and well-known entitles one to a flock of attractive individuals at their every beck and (booty) call. Perhaps reality is as so, and everyone who can make it rain is an automatic Dan Bilzerian, but the men who subscribe to the costly Girlfriend Experience are looking for engagement beyond pouring champagne on women in a hot tub.
Being in the elite faction spurs attention. This is one of the main reasons that companies like Mynt and The Best Girlfriend Experience pride iron-clad confidentiality policies above all else. A majority of their clients are celebrities, affluent businessmen, or captains of industries, where reputation is deeply prized. Most of them are married. The discretion extends both ways, applied to the ladies themselves, and the measures their companies take to protect their identities, as some of the ladies employed are celebrities.
At Mynt, a keen client would have to pay an upwards of USD250,000 for a membership in order to access a gallery of photographs and videos of the models for hire. Otherwise, their on-site catalogue only proffers photographs with blurred out faces that one can choose from. Typically, a client would approach the managers with specifications of what their dream companion would be like, from body type, hair or eye colour, to their demeanour. Both managers place great importance in being friendly with their clients to ensure familiarity and a knowledge of their preferences.
According to Vanessa, many of her clients enjoy the service because the temporality adds to the fulfillment. "Most of them travel very often, and don't have time to conventionally date. The world we live in is about immediate gratification, after all," she remarks. "My members can call me in the morning, state their requirements, and in the evening, I ensure it happens, be it with a beautiful 26 year-old post-graduate, a young, fit philanthropist or a 35 year-old model."
The dates these women embark on are far from quotidian. While the rest of us trudge to cinemas and inhale fast food after (upsized, if we're feeling fancy), these women enjoy the finest dinners, super yacht rides, gala attendances, or even holidays that span anything from a stay in a five-star resort to a safari sojourn abroad. On the Mynt site, it even specifies that the models "maintain a first-class lifestyle...and tend to shy away from standards or treatments lower than those to which they are accustomed."
The target demographic is very, explicitly male, but the managers revealed that their company do cater to women as well, and couples.
Akin to any regular first-date experiences, there are the occasional odd requests that the managers have to grapple with. Bisette's upscale client base warrants some high-maintenance demands, such as having to call a celebrity by a pseudonym like "Fred Johnson" for the entire date. Wealthy clients are said to be very particular about their property. One client made a woman take her high heels off upon arrival, and stated that she could only wear slippers in his private jet, while another detested fingerprints anywhere on his yacht, resulting in the crew and the model having to don white gloves the whole trip. Vanessa's agency also once received a call from a client who wanted a girl to pick him up from the airport with her leg in a plaster cast.
"Needless too say, I did not have any uptake from my girls," she jokes.
Sex: The Elephant In The Room
Prestige is a definitive standard in the industry, but that doesn't mask the presumptions that hiring an escort is mainly for, or guarantees sex. Whether that is obligatory practise in other companies, the two we spoke to refuted that sex is a must.
Vanessa's past experiences with prostitution made her realise that there was a gap in the market for The Girlfriend Experience, where clients could indulge in an all-rounded endeavour that did not have to end in sex, just like regular couples do on dates.
"[The client] books with us to spend time with one of these beautiful ladies, and if there's some form of attraction, that's completely within them," said Bisette, who was slightly affronted on the topic. "It's not asked for, or prompted towards. I strictly introduce, and everything else is entirely between them. If the lady chooses to sleep with the client, it's her choice."
Vanessa, on the other hand, was slightly more candid. Her company owns "fully kitted out" penthouses wherein clients and models can visit to discreetly indulge in "private time and adult entertainment". She also adds that despite sex not being a mandatory part of The Girlfriend Experience, none of her women have ever turned down any such requests from clients, which she attributes to her strong intuition, and knowing how to matchmake her clients well.
"No one is ever forced to do anything they don't want to do," she emphasises.
All About The Money
It's blatant that the amount it costs to hire a girlfriend under these agencies supersedes the salary of an average employee per month, even year, but the women providing the service are remunerated far more. Bisette, who earns up to USD250,000 annually mentioned coyly that she doesn't earn as much as her ladies. Unsurprising, given that hiring a celebrity courtesan under Mynt costs as much as USD1.5 million a day.
As exorbitant as the service seems, Mynt enjoys over 90 percent return clients for The Girlfriend Experience, spelling an endless cycle of money for pleasure on the clients' end. For the ladies involved, Vanessa shared money earned often goes back to their families.
"I'm amazed by the wonderful things they do with the money they make, like buying a house or a car for the parents, and even paying their medical bills. Most of them do this to build a better future for themselves or their families."
Many tend to be quick to derail the elite escort profession, proclaiming that "they're basically just prostitutes", or crassly labeling the managers as "pimps" by some strange manner of principle. Mass media often contributes to cloaking the profession in romanticised immorality, rarely permitting society to perceive the machinations of the industry beyond Stepford she-devils in three scraps of lace lounging above massive stacks of cash. In reality, the managers and their ladies share a symbiotic relationship that is underscored by a very deep, mutual care.
Both place a heightened importance on the welfare of their ladies before the clients, going to great lengths to ensure their safety, even rejecting clients if necessary.
"I treat my ladies like gold," asserts Vanessa. "I will do anything to protect them. They're almost like daughters to me."