For this installment of “How Fashion Week Gets Made,” we interviewed Casting Director-extraordinaire Julia Samersova, who has worked in the industry for 20 years–first as a model agent, and now as casting director–and counts some of the biggest designers as clients. You may also recognize Julia from E!’s Scouted, where her seasoned wisdom is on full display as she, alongside Michael Flutie, Scott Lipps, and others, search for the next big thing.
Can you describe what a typical casting session is like, from start to finish?
A typical casting session takes place at the designers showroom or studio or atelier. The designer, creative director, or someone who is spearheading the vision for the brand usually joins us at the casting and we can see hundreds of girls in the span of 2 to 4 hours. The girls all wait their turn to come in, say hello, show us their portfolio, do their best runway walk, and then hopefully try something on. It’s a pretty quick process and we try to get a sense for the girls’ energy in those very quick moments!
How many shows do you cast per season?
I try not to do any more than five per season, as I think it’s very important to give each individual client the time, energy and focus they deserve.
What is the most enjoyable part about casting NYFW?
The best part for me is that I get to go to work every day and be with people I consider not only clients, but also creative collaborators, and in most cases, friends. New York is also the first city on the four-city fashion circuit, and so casting NYFW is exciting because we get to meet and hopefully discover the NEXT HOT NEW FACES first! It’s very satisfying to meet the diamond in the rough and watch them go on to do well in Europe!
What is the most stressful part of casting NYFW?
The fashion calendar is so jam packed with shows, that there are literally sometimes 5 shows going on in the same one-hour slot! This makes it very competitive when it comes to getting models, as we all tend to want the same models at the same time. It can be very stressful at times, but most designers understand the impossible logistics of it all.
Some designers LOVE to option (place a hold on) every model in the city, and make the rest of us just wait till they make their final decisions. I think it’s really rude, but if the designer is influential and powerful enough, they get away with it.
How far in advance do you cast the shows?
In most cases about one week before the actual show. Sometimes, we can do it in less time, but I encourage my clients to stay flexible and realistic!
How do you make your selection while casting? (ie, unless she’s a big name, how do you decide which models to choose? look? personality? personal relationship?)
It all comes down to that intangible special quality of course. A feeling that you get when a girl walks into a room. Looks are obviously extremely important, and the model has to fit with the designers vision for the season, but personality is so key! There are also those special girls that you bond with over time, and many seasons of doing shows together, and you always root for them because they have a special place in your heart.
Do you do the casting in one round, or two? (or more)?
I prefer to do two rounds. I am sure every casting director has a different way of working. I like to see as many girls as possible, and because I know how jam packed everyone’s schedules are, I try to give two days, so everyone we request has a chance to come see us.
Are you given direction from the designer/brand on what sort of girl they are looking for?
Yes, absolutely! In the beginning of the season, we will always meet with the designers/creative directors of the brand, and they walk us threw the collection and the feeling of the type of model they want.
Are there ever any cases where a model cancels last minute or is offered a bigger show can no longer walk?
Yes, this happens all the time! Models are human beings and things just happen. People get sick, or leave for unexpected reasons. Models also sometimes do get offered to do a “better” or more prestigious show, and the agency will cancel the model for that reason! I am really mellow about this, because I have learned that there is nothing you can do to change the outcome. Model agents are there to make the absolute BEST career decision for their clients (the models). I was a model agent for many years before I became a Casting Director, so I have been on both sides of the coin. You have to be understanding and also ALWAYS have a PLAN B BACKUP! Stay prepared for the worst!
How do you coordinate the models schedules since many of them are walking so many shows?
You try to give reasonable call times and stay in touch with the agents at all times. There are lots of tense moments day of the show where models are running from back to back shows all day and everyone is running late and you are constantly on the phone asking the infamous question of “Where is she”? It’s adrenaline all day long!
What was the worst thing that happened during your years casting NYFW (in terms of work nightmares)?
I won’t name names, but I did a show a few seasons ago and we were in the same time slot as one of the biggest shows in NYC. This very influential designer was still confirming models for his show literally till the last minute, and decided to pull 3 models from the show I was casting as my show was getting ready to start. We had to replace 3 models within literally 20 minutes. Somehow, you just do it and I always say, in the end, it all just somehow works out for the best!
What was the funniest thing that happened during your years casting NYFW?
I don’t know if I can pick out just one instance. I feel for the most part, we laugh a lot during these crazy days and nights, mostly because we are so delusional from lack of sleep!