Casting is an integral part of the show process because it doesn’t matter how major the clothes are if the models wearing them are weak. Casting is very subjective, so what is a good casting for one show isn’t always good for another. It’s really important for a stylist and designer to know what kind of character they are after before they start the casting process. If they don’t know, the casting ends up diluted and all over the place. Casting your “cabine” of models is like choosing your ultimate clients. The models should reflect (at least in looks) the kind of person a designer actually wants to wear the clothes. A model can “turn” an outfit more preppy, or more sexy or more edgy. So being aware of how the model will change the looks is crucial. For Antonio’s show, we always go for an artistic aristocrat kind of look: the guy who loves art and went to boarding school but isn’t scared to go see a band play in a dirty Lower East Side club. I like to create a story like that about the character because it makes it easier for me to figure out which models fit. That being said, sometimes we meet a model we are super inspired by, and will change the whole casting to be based on the model’s own character and personality.
When we are meeting models for the first time at go-sees, I like to see the models in a go-see look or two that represents the theme of the collection and the key silhouettes. Fit is the other important factor when casting. A perfect fit is rare, even for supermodels. When I am looking at a model in the go see look, I pay attention to their shoulders (are they symmetrical? They might have a crooked shoulder, a result of sports or carrying their bag always on one shoulder), arm length, leg length, waist (short waist, long waist, etc.) and ankles (especially important for some shoes). Again, body types that work in the clothes are subjective to the collection; what body type works for one designer might not work for another. With Antonio’s collection, the suits and samples are all on the smaller side so we have to cast skinnier, slightly smaller guys. The really tall guys with muscles don’t fit his clothes well. Years ago when I worked with Ralph Lauren on one of his men’s shows, he had the opposite requirements. Because Ralph’s samples and silhouettes were fit on a bigger fit model (Antonio fits on himself, and he is a smaller guy), we needed to cast the taller models with more muscles and build to fill out and hold the clothes.
Then there is the walk. Some models walk super sexy, some like boys, some like robots. I think a model’s walk is an extension of her/his personality. If a model is shy, her walk is usually weak. If a model is confident, there is a strength to her walk. Some designers don’t care so much about a model’s walk–i.e. some of the newer girls in Prada shows–it’s more about a look. For me, I always think a strong walk makes the clothes look better and generates a more powerful reaction from the audience.
Now, a casting is only as good as it’s casting director. Casting Directors are a MUST for a fashion show. Michelle Lee at KCD is my all time favorite casting director because she is creative (she can cast inside a philosophy and character, shockingly hard for some), innovative (she finds amazing new models and likes them because she likes them, not because everyone else does), professional (she never bullshits anyone, the clients or the agents) and fun (she is really hilarious, which is so good when I am stressed and exhausted). All of these attributes are MEGA important when hiring a casting director. For Antonio’s show, we worked with another amazing casting director named John Tan. John directed our casting and brought a fresh perspective to the character that Antonio and I have been shaping for seasons now. John made sure we saw all of the relevant models, another important aspect that casting directors bring to the table.
As the casting process plays out, paying attention to how the cast of models look together as a group is another skill to develop and a way to drive a creative message. Going all sexy or masculine or rocker with a cast can push a designer’s creative message to another level.