Few prominent people in the industry have been as vocal about its lack of diverse faces as casting director James Scully, who has publicly called out everyone from Raf Simons to Demna Gvsalia on their clear (and unacceptable) preference for white models.
"It’s very upsetting for me when I go to Dover Street Market [and see] lines of Hispanic and black and Japanese kids buying the [Vetements] collections and when [the runway show represents] a vision that to me felt menacing, what about all those kids that now all of a sudden feel slapped in the face?" said Scully of Gvsalia's all-white casting at his fall 2016 shows for Vetements and Balenciaga. He was speaking with a few of the most prominent figures in modeling and fashion, including IMG President Ivan Bart, casting director Gilleon Smith, Paper's Editorial Director Mickey Boardman and models Ashley Graham and Alek Wek. They made up the first panel at the inaugural Fashion Culture Design "Unconference" on Thursday, which was organized by Simon Collins.
The panelists were there to discuss the expanding definition of beauty in the fashion industry exemplified by things like Graham's unprecedented mainstream success and diverse runways like those of the New York brand Chromat, which Smith casts. But as Scully pointed out, progress has not been made everywhere. And in some ways, things aren't so different from when he was trying to cast Liya Kebede at the beginning of her career. It wasn't easy. "People think Liya Kebede just walked in the door and had an amazing career, but I actually left the business over some horror stories she experienced when she walked in the door," he said. "I had to constantly convince people."
As Scully was seemingly hesitant go into detail over the incident that made him quit the industry, Bart interjected: "It was a top photographer and he didn’t want to shoot her because she was black." Scully continued: "I was so stunned that would come out of the [photographer's] agent’s mouth and I said, 'You shoot Naomi all the time, you shoot with Edward Enniful all the time,' and [he said], 'Yeah, well, that’s different,' and I'm like, 'This girl is going to be huge.'"
"And you called it," continued Bart. He thanked Scully for taking a stand and fighting for Kebede, who went on to become the first black model to nab an Estee Lauder contract.
Wek said she didn't know where to begin when asked about the remarks she's heard from photographers and casting directors. "[People would say,] 'She’s so weird, she’s so bizarre,' and I would think, 'What? I am the most normal. I’ve seen the most bizarre.'"
Scully feels that in some ways the industry has gone backwards in its casting tendencies. "Gigi Hadid was actually defending her body [on social media], when Cindy [Crawford] and Linda [Evangelista] and Christy [Turlington], they were all her size, that was a normal size," he said. "In those days, if Linda gained a few pounds, you didn't shame her, you got her a brand new dress. Now people just make the girls feel bad [and say], 'Oh you gained five pounds, you actually turned 18 and now you have breasts, so we’re just going to make you feel awful about yourself and exclude you instead of saying: let’s embrace what [you have].'"
Responding to Boardman, who pointed out that according to charts he's found in magazines he is considered "obese" [ed. note: he does not seem obese], Graham said, "There's still a disconnect with looking at a woman like me or a man like you and saying, 'You're unhealthy.' And Ivan and I had this conversation as well, we’ve gotten our stats done, we've gotten our blood pressure, blood sugar levels done. I’m a healthy woman." Though that isn't enough. "A sample size will never fit me unless designers start making like a size 14, and I’ll constantly be judged on my size."
She did point to Glamour as an example of a magazine that's making progress when it comes to representing a wider range of sizes, referencing its recent plus-size special edition, for which she graced the cover. As for that whole Amy Schumer debacle: "There was no mention of the word [plus-size] and also we were just grouped together as beautiful, curvy women."
So aside from that, what needs to happen for the industry to make a real change towards diversity and inclusivity? Bart feels designers and brands will have to change in response to the expectations of millennials. "The millennials live in the truth, they see everything on Snapchat and Instagram... When they were in middle school, they got a little naughty and sent underwear pictures to each other. They know that when you’re sitting up you have a [stomach] roll. It doesn’t matter if you’re a sample size or not, they do not buy airbrushing," he said. "The bottom line is we are now consumer facing. It’s no longer going to be the fashion industry dictating what the look is; the consumer will."
An audience member also pointed out that in fashion schools, students are taught to work on size 2 and 4 model forms and thus don't know how to design for larger sizes. Graham noted that Emme, a former plus size model, partnered with a manufacturer to create forms based on her body for students to use.
As for the casting problem, Bart and Scully are throwing their weight behind the cause. "I’m going to challenge James; we are going to appeal to one of the major designers and we’re going to have the most diverse show: multi-size, multi-generational, different races... Alek will open and Ashley will close." You heard it here first.
Homepage photo: Daniel C Sims/Getty Images for Chromat