While it's often the designers, models and street style stars that get the lion's share of the limelight during fashion week, there's an entire industry of people who work tirelessly to put together the shows every season. In a series of short profiles, we'll shine the spotlight on those behind-the-scenes talents.
Next to the clothes, the models are often the biggest news on the runway. Whether it's seeing rising star Natalie Westling grab a spot at a coveted show, Kendall Jenner nabbing a Marc Jacobs exclusive or Cara Delevingne taking selfies on the Giles runway, having the right girl in your show can mean a little bit of extra press.
But that moment doesn't happen without the help of professionals. With major clients like Jason Wu and Stella McCartney, casting director James Scully definitely knows how to spot the Next Big Thing -- and how to get her for his designers' shows. Scully gives us the inside scoop on how his process works from start to finish.
When do you start preparing for the September shows?
Today! [Ed note: This interview took place August 25.] Basically everyone gets back and everyone turns out their packages now. I'll go through every single one of them and compile a list of girls from each agency that I want to see. Then later this week, I'll literally see every girl from all of those packages from all of those agencies. After that's done, I'll select a group of each of those girls that would be potentials for each of my clients. Then they go to see the clients, and after they see them, we finalize the cast and set up their fittings. That's everything that happens before the show.
How far in advance do you know whom you're casting for each season?
I pretty much cast the same things every season, and maybe about three to five months before the next round of shows I'll get phone calls from people who want to work with me. Most casting directors pretty much have the same people every season.
Do you meet the designers before the casting process to get a better idea of what they're looking for?
For most designers, you bring about 60 or 70 percent of the girls who have done it before back. Some people change out all the time, but my clients do 30/70, so I'm looking for 30 percent of new girls to bring in, but a lot of the time your cast is predetermined.
What are meetings with new models like?
I pretty much know when they walk through the door if they're interesting to me or not. A lot of the times I'm basing my first impression off a picture in a package, and sometimes girls are much better than their pictures and other times they aren't as good as their pictures. When she walks in the room, I'm already kind of looking for how much presence and confidence she has, because if she doesn't have a lot of it or she's not ready, I'll see her and make her walk but I've already decided she's not right for me this season. When someone has that little bit of an extra thing I can see when she walks into a room, usually that girl will go through the whole process.
What are your typical hours like?
I'm fortunate that all the people I tend to work with are not all-nighters. I had an agent once joke that they call me "Mister 9 to 5" because I can usually get my castings and my fittings done [early]. Obviously, you do go late sometimes, but because the way a fashion show runs is kind of a machine, the mechanics don't change, so it's the same thing. Because I work with them all the time, I always know what days Carolina [Herrera] will fit, what days Jason [Wu] will fit, what days Derek [Lam] will cast, so the whole schedule is pre-built in. You're just working these new girls in to fit the schedule.
Is it ever difficult to juggle multiple designers?
I've cut back in the last couple of years. I like the challenge of juggling multiple personalities, that I have different clients that have very different points of view. While you're working on New York you're also doing Europe as well, so you're kind of doing all your cities at once. It's the juggle of what you're doing in New York with whatever you're doing in London, Milan and Paris. Again, because the way the mechanics work, it can be done, but I definitely had a couple of seasons where I was in over my head, so basically, I keep a very tight, small schedule.
How does that work with the European shows, do you travel to cast those?
Well, London basically has to be done from New York, because the girls leave the next day and a lot of girls fly in and go straight backstage. Because I do London, that's why I do less in New York because I already have to start moving on that. I don't do Milan so I have a week before I have to start working on Paris. But again, in Paris I do Stella McCartney and she has a very definitive Stella girl, so it's a 70/30 swap out, because when she likes a girl she likes her to come back.
What's the worst thing that could happen?
I think the thing that creates the most problems is show conflicts. There are too many shows, and shows are on top of other shows, so if you have two important shows that are next to each other, that's a problem. There are not enough good girls in the world for two shows to share a cast of 40 girls, so one can't share with another and it becomes a very stressful battle. It's a battle of wills rather than what's right. For me, that's the biggest pressure in the business right now.
I'm always prepared, sometimes a girl may not show up for a show or gets sick that morning. I'm very fast on my feet and always have replacements in mind, you can always make that kind of thing work. Some people freak out when that happens, but I just take a deep breath and work with it.
How do you handle a show conflict?
If you can't make it work, then it is what it is. When there's lots of conflict, I feel like a lot of us casting directors are all pretty friendly with each other, so with the designers and the stylists, we negotiate out these conflicts. Basically, you get one, I get the other -- it's kind of a win, lose and draw. But it won't end your show and everyone wants what's best for your designer. If one designer is more important than the other or has a very powerful stylist, they're going to get the girl -- that's how the business works. But in general, I try to stay away from those conflicts as much as possible.
What do you think people misunderstand about your job?
It's funny, because I don't think that people think so much about us. We're kind of the silent, behind-the-scenes people, a lot of people don't even know that we exist -- which is fine, because we're like a cog in a wheel. It's a very important job, but it's a part of a bigger machine.
I think young people who decide they want to be in casting don't realize how hard it is. It really requires negotiating conflicts, scheduling hundreds of people. If you have five, six, seven, eight shows with casts of 30 to 40 girls, eight times over, you just really have to be a meticulous scheduler and negotiator. When you have several shows going on at once, and two of them go wrong, it's quite tough. But I feel like, when you're really in it and you have lots of shows, to me the pressure feels like being on the floor of Wall Street: People want things fast and now and you have to deal with a lot of personalities. It really requires tons of multitasking.
When are you officially done?
It's never really done, there are so many now! My shows will end on September 30, but then right after that there's advertising season, a very brief time out, and then pre-fall starts. After pre-fall you have men's and women's in January, and then you have resort -- you get little breaks, but you're never really done.