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If you ask any working runway model, she'll likely tell you that booking a spot in a top Paris show is one of her ultimate career goals: Not only does appearing in the lineup for an esteemed house like Balenciaga, Lanvin, Dior, Chanel or Valentino assure that the very best stylists, editors and photographers will be in the house to watch you walk; "making it" in Paris essentially legitimizes your career in the modeling industry, as it's still considered the crème de la crème of the fashion capitals.
That said, models — much like ambitious hopefuls in any industry — are often willing to deal with more than their fair share of bullshit in order to increase their chances of landing their dream job. However, recent allegations by a prominent member of the fashion industry claim that they're actually subjected to conditions that are downright cruel, as well as racist and, in certain cases, illegal. On Monday, influential casting director James Scully, who's worked with the likes of Tom Ford, Stella McCartney and Brandon Maxwell, posted a scathing note on Instagram maintaining that models were "traumatized" by conditions and treatment at a number of go-sees in Paris.
According to Scully, Balenciaga's casting directors Maida Gregori Boina and Rami Fernandes (whom he calls "serial abusers") allegedly made "over 150 girls wait in a stairwell" for three hours in the dark while they went to lunch, instructing them not to leave if they wanted a chance to be seen. "Not only was this sadistic and cruel, it was dangerous and left more than a few of the girls I spoke with traumatized," wrote Scully. "Most of the girls have asked to have their options for Balenciaga cancelled as well as Hermès and Elie Saab who [Maida and Rami] also cast for because they refuse to be treated like animals."
In addition, Scully noted that he's heard "from several agents, some of whom are black, that they have received mandate from Lanvin that they do not want to be presented with women of color" — which, if true, is a shameful and major step backward in the progress the industry's made in diversity this season thus far. Finally, Scully claims that another top house (which he does not name) is allegedly "trying to sneak 15-year-olds into Paris," when designers are strongly discouraged from hiring models under 18 for the runway. "It's inconceivable to me that people have no regard for human decency or the lives and feelings of these girls, especially when too, too many of these models are under the age of 18 and clearly not equipped to be here," he wrote. "But [God] forbid we'll sacrifice anything or anyone for an exclusive, right?"
It's certainly no secret that models (both established and up-and-coming) are frequently treated as props and less-than-human — this is why the Model Alliance was formed and why the CFDA releases health guidelines for fashion week — but it's rare that someone so influential in the industry will speak out against this sort of injustice. Scully promises to keep sharing stories throughout the week, so we suggest you follow him on Instagram ASAP.
Reps for Balenciaga, Hermès, Elie Saab and Lanvin did not immediately respond to our requests for comment, and Scully was unavailable for more information at press time, but we will update this post as we learn more.
UPDATE, Tues., Feb. 28, 2:19 p.m.: A representative for Balenciaga has provided Fashionista with the following statement:
"On Sunday, February 26th Balenciaga took notice of issues with the model castings carried out on that day. The House reacted immediately, making radical changes to the casting process, including discontinuing the relationship with the current casting agency.
Additionally, Balenciaga sent a written apology to the agencies of the models who were affected by this specific situation, asking them to share it with them.
Balenciaga condemns this incident and will continue to be deeply committed to ensure the most respectful working conditions for the models."
We have not yet heard back from Scully regarding our request for comment.
UPDATE, Wed., Mar. 8: After Paris Fashion Week concluded on Tuesday, Scully took to Instagram to announce that, in future seasons, he has the support of both luxury conglomerates LVMH and Kering, who have pledged to help him "in any way possible to reverse this behavior and return some of the joy and humanity back to [the modeling] business." He also calls for the end of the unethical treatment of underage, new models for "pointless exclusives" — a practice that he says is "beginning to border on trafficking."
This is about deplorable fitting hours, with no compensation for wasted time and cancellations. Casting directors who leverage girls with their clients Blackballing, Dwindling rates and the proliferation of under 18 year old children in paris. Not to mention the amount of 15 year olds snuck onto shows which can "I say this in quotes" can legally be done but is not legal and breaks the oath we made to the French federation to protect under age girls.
You can read his full statement on Instagram.