THE FUTURE OF THE FASHION SHOW
A sharp memory, working on a hunch and being analytical – those were the main qualities that Piergiorgio Del Moro probably would have needed to work in the legal field, but instead have made him a runway success in the fashion world. Having worked with top designers such as Jeremy Scott for Moschino, Dries Van Noten, Karl Lagerfeld for Fendi, Donatella Versace and Victoria Beckham (alongside high calibre photographers like Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott, Collier Schorr and Peter Lindbergh), he is no stranger to casting models for clients with demandingly different requirements.
¨ Each brand is trying to find its own identity with its own girls. There are so many new faces and new models, it’s now about finding the right girls for the right brands and it´s becoming a massive job.¨ – Piergiorgio Del Moro
With fashion calendars and runway shows often being subjected to daily disruptions and continual changes, alongside today´s social media platforms offering more assorted ideas of who looks good wearing what, all pre-conceived stereotypes of the generic and slender look of the typical runway girl can be negated. Within the current runway environment, it is difficult to ignore a lack of diversity (whatever that may mean these days); with factors such as age, shape and ethnicity coming into play alongside an ever increasing, expanding multi-cultural circle of new faces. Piergiorgio spoke candidly about his role within the industry and why it´s all changing for the better.
First thing’s first. Tell me what you do and how you do it?
I’m a casting director. What I do is meet the designer, try to understand their vision and the DNA of the brand, and then I ask for reference images so I can start casting. When I started to do this job seven years ago, I realized that I’m serving a brand, serving a designer. I can bring my vision, but it is really about serving someone else, so I need to understand what kind of beauty the designer is looking for, and then I propose ideas and the girls that reflect what’s needed.
How did you start?
I was studying international law and I quit. I didn’t want to do law anymore and my parents told me, “Alright, it’s your life. Find the money to live day by day.” So I found a job at a production company. At that time, about 15 years ago, many of the production companies in Europe were doing the casting. There was a casting director, so I started helping with it. Then I lived in Asia for about three years doing casting and production, and then I came to New York seven years ago; through some connections, people like Carine Roitfeld, I found my job. I’ve been collecting fashion books since I was a teenager. I always was obsessed with Irving Penn and Richard Avedon. I was always looking to models. I found casting more interesting than production, but when I started, no one was picking up the phone in New York—the model agencies were quite difficult with me. But step by step, I did it.
Why do you think the role of casting director has emerged in the last few years?
Before there were like 20 or 30 models that were doing all the shows, and there were only three or four shows a day. Now each brand is trying to find its own identity with its own girls. There are so many new faces and new models, so it’s now about finding the right girls for the right brands. It’s becoming a massive job. Today, girls can do one or two shows exclusive, and it’s not 20 models anymore—you have 50 models per show.
When I started to go to runway shows in the nineties, a girl would come out maybe three times.
You want to have the faces tell a story through the show, and you can only really do that when you have one girl per look. Sometimes it’s about an alteration of who’s wearing the look, sometimes it’s about not having stress backstage and speeding up the fitting times. But really it’s about the luxury of having everyone dressed—especially now when you see they try to do different makeup on the girls in the lineup. When you have one girl per look, you can personalize the makeup, the hair. It’s a luxury.
Having one model per look should also mean that the casting is becoming broader; more characters, far more diversity, which is good. It’s not just about the idea of one girl repeated again and again and again.
What I like about my job is that it’s a new job every fashion show. Each one I start from scratch. Sometimes a designer will ask you to find a single kind of beauty in all of the models and sometimes a designer will ask you to find different characters, but each one is trying to find their identity. The problem I have in this moment is that each brand wants their own girls, but we want to develop these models and have them grow which means they need to do many shows. That’s the discrepancy when you are trying to build a new model’s career today. Linda [Evangelista] was not Linda because she was born Linda. She had the experience of doing all sorts of shows and went in front of the camera. It’s a challenge to develop the careers of these models when each brand wants their own girls.
What’s the relationship now between runway and editorial?
Models have to have experience to move in front of the camera. They need to grow, do tests. In the show, everyone always asks “Who is the new girl?” and then the photographers are fascinated, but then when you put them in front of the camera and they cannot move in front of the camera like a Caroline Trentini. She has 15 years of experience so she reads what the photographer has in mind. Now, we have a lot of new people on the runway, but it’s kind of like natural selection. You get 50 new faces each season, but then you see in three or four months who’s going to last—maybe only two or three are going to last. Rianne Van Rompaey is going to last because of her personality; so will Lexi Boling. People like that—they’ve done amazing shows and then they develop themselves on photo shoots. If they don’t have a personality, they don’t last a long time.
So tell me, you did Alexander Wang for the first time this season. What was the brief for that show?
What I really like is Alex has an amazing and extremely exacting vision. He’s a great casting director himself because he knows what he wants. I got there, he showed me references, some editorial shoots and old surfer images, so when I go back to my studio, I know what I’m looking for.
How would you describe the beauty of the Wang girl versus the beauty of the Beckham girl, which you also did?
Alex was looking for sporty, surfer, American beauty. Victoria was looking more for a pure, sophisticated, elegant character with a sort of edge. It was a completely different approach. In Wang, we bleached the hair. That was a challenge. When we told the girls we were going to chop and bleach their hair, one started to cry. I was like, “Hey, come on, it’s Guido!”
When you’re asked to work with Alexander Wang or Victoria Beckham, and you’re given the reference photos, what’s the process then?
I usually go back with a huge binder with several ideas. I think it’s sort of similar to the way that a designer develops a collection. You start with mood boards, all different types, and then you start to narrow down. Then, through meeting the girls, you come up with a final edit. People think that casting is like you turn up for the show three days before. For some brands, it can be, but for Alex, it’s not. This is the way you develop the career of a model. He spends a lot of time looking into the girls and how they match the collection. Doing a meeting with him, you understand the process, the idea, and the final concept. We travel sometimes to look into completely brand new people. Now, at the moment, we’re traveling a lot through Europe because I think it’s the biggest market for new models. In the past it was Brazil, Canada, Russia . . . but now a lot of new models are from the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway. We usually travel there, but then sometimes you come to Spain and you find amazing people that you never would have expected. I have two assistants because sometimes you can find people in the commercial boards. (Model agencies keep separate their editorial boards—i.e. high fashion—and commercial—i.e. not high fashion.)
That’s where Anna Ewers and Joan Smalls came from?
Yes, yes. We found a girl that you’re going to see later this season who was on the board of a Spanish commercial agency. We looked at her and thought why is she on that board. It’s really trying to find so many alternates and possibilities, and then you go through and go through until you reach your final edit.
So you’re going to do Versus and Versace?
So it’s your first time working with Saint Laurent, but not your first time working with Anthony.
I met Anthony when I was doing Versus, and we developed a good relationship. He’s another guy who has a great vision. He knows what he likes and has a very specific beauty in mind—cool, sexy, but not commercial. When I work with him, I know what kind of reference he likes. It’s easier for me when someone is specific because I know what I have to deliver.
At the New York shows we saw greater ethnic identity, which is fantastic, and we saw, at Becca McCharen-Tran’s great Chromat show, challenges to the notion of a single body type. We also saw street casting play an important role. How is all this impacting how you cast a show?
I think it’s all about finding your identity. Margiela was doing street casting and Versace was doing the sexy girl [years ago]. I don’t have any plans at the moment for street casting, but I really do love it. When I started, I did an internship with Jennifer Venditti and I did street casting for all the Dolce & Gabbana campaigns. And in terms of diversity, yes, there are so many black models on the runways, but I think that’s because there are so many new black models, which is new.
I don’t know—maybe the visa situation. A lot of girls couldn’t get a visa to get into the country before. Maybe agencies have been scouting in countries that they didn’t previously, like Jamaica. Who knows—maybe one day we’ll start to see girls from Cuba? Diversity has become a major conversation in our world and I think it has forced designers to consider how their own castings will be received to the new global customer. Our industry has become massively more global with customers spanning across the world and from all different backgrounds. To relate to an increasingly global customer base, I think brands realize their castings need to do a good job to reflect the broad range of customers today.
What’s the value to a model in doing a runway show now?
It’s not about money. It used to be. I remember some model agency in Italy told me once that, years ago, the girls were coming back with tons of cash stashed in the bags. Today the girls are becoming rich through beauty contracts, major accounts like Victoria’s Secret or L’Oréal. I really don’t think shows are bringing much money to girls—especially if you’re talking about the new generation. Shows are becoming like a window where you show yourself through a specific brand. I think having a key position in one big brand is great visibility to start a career—to open Prada, to open Miu Miu, Alexander Wang. I think that too many brands are doing too many exclusives now, so girls don’t work much.
Which, this season, thinking about Victoria Beckham, Alexander Wang, and the shows you’ve got coming up, are there certain girls that you’re very excited about?
Yeah, but because this article is coming out in the middle of the season, if I mention one . . .
Okay, let’s talk about Wang and Beckham!
Anique [Jozsi], who walked in Alex Wang who looks like a young Raquel—beautiful, really sporty. I met her in Amsterdam and I hadn’t known what to use her for, and then when Alex showed me the surfer references, I thought that’s her. I showed him, he fell in love with her, and we brought her in. There was a girl in Victoria Beckham, called Zhenya [Migovych], who has a pure beauty. One of my favorite girls, Marjan Jonkman, I love her personality. She’s extremely inspiring.
She’s great—and she also has interesting posture . . .
I know. We were just going over that the other day. I asked if she could stop going up with the shoulders and she said, “That’s my style!” I said, “I can’t!” But sometimes you put her in an outfit, and it turns the outfit in such an amazing way. She’s very confident about herself, so when she carries something she’s feeling, she’s fantastic. She adds something to the look. Sometimes you look at an outfit and you think Marjan would carry that outfit amazing. You try it on 15 other people and then you put on her and she’s great.
You have Versace coming up. Tell me about recent Versace shows, because I like the range of the casting Donatella has been using recently.
When I started this job, there were three things in my mind, and one was to work for Versace. For me, when I started working at Versace, I thanked Donatella and Anthony. It was a dream. She has such an amazing personality and it’s such a dream to work with her. When I got there, I thought the brand needed some older models back in the show because models need to feel sexy to wear Versace, and some of the newer girls feel it, and some don’t. So I thought why don’t we mix the young girls with some of the real Versace girls—like Raquel Zimmermann, Natasha Poly, and then we go to some like Carolyn Murphy, Karen Elson. Those women are really powerful in the show and really interpret what Donatella wants to see. Karen Elson opened the last couture show, and Carolyn Murphy closed it. It’s very challenging to get those women back on the runway because they don’t . . . well, I think also personally speaking, it’s very hard to walk in a runway with 17-year-old models.
I think it’s something that feels very right for the time we live in. I’m sure you could argue that it’s about the particular needs of each brand, but as an editor, I like the range, the fact that there is a representation of a larger constituency of women than just kids.
Completely—and it’s also about surprising people on the runway. We have quite a few good surprises in the next Versace runway on Friday. It’s challenging. The models can change their minds, they say no; you really need to work in advance to get these people booked, but for Versace it’s really much easier because she has such an incredible relationship with these women and they all really care about her. They love doing that because they feel confident when they are there.
Tell me about this notion of sexiness. I grew up in an era of the supers walking in Versace—the Stephanies, the Christys, the Lindas—and they could carry the clothes off.
I wish I could tell Stephanie Seymour to go back on the runway!
The one thing I’m wondering is why don’t we see women like that on the runways so much these days? I feel like when I look at their bodies compared to the girls now—they’re so much skinnier.
You’d have to ask the designer! I really work based on the collection.
I’m more just wondering where are those bodies now?
The age is different. It’s changed. Before the average age of a runway model was 18, 19, 20, and so the girls were closer to womanhood and you could see it in their bodies. Now, the average girl is like 16 or 17, and the body hasn’t developed yet. When you have a body of a 16-year-old model as opposed to a 19-year-old model, you see a difference. But I always keep in mind how healthy the models I’m working with are, and I really care about it; if I see someone superskinny or not healthy, I tell the agency and see what we can do together. I haven’t seen so many cases in my career, but it’s our priority to help them.
How has social media has changed your job?
Now, it’s one of the elements to cast a show for some brands. It’s new advertising and new visibility. For some of the brands, especially the commercial ones, it’s visibility. I think Gigi is an amazing one, and the combination of Gigi and Versace is perfect. She looks fantastic and has an amazing personality. Some are great, and others I don’t think are going to last more than a few years, but yeah, it’s something that you need to consider.
I think Gigi is a great model.
She always tells me that she learned to be a good model with Steven Meisel because Steven put a mirror in front of her face. Karlie Kloss is one of the most amazing models in this business and she’s got a large Instagram presence. It really depends how much they care about being a model aside from Instagram. It’s another platform where you can cast people, and it’s a place to find great ideas.
I feel like there’s a generation of stylists that are very much looking to Instagram to cast girls in their shows. Is that something that you as a casting director use?
Yeah. Now, for example, if you go on my Instagram, there are all the model agencies, all the scouters, and if you see a new face, you screenshot. It’s another way to do casting. For example, Jeremy Scott looks to people from Instagram to cast his show. It’s a very good platform. I don’t know if I’m so much in love with Instagram models, but I’m not against it, and if they’re good models, then why shouldn’t they be in the show? They are giving a positive visibility to the brand.
This season in New York, we’re seeing this moment like Ralph Lauren, Tom Ford, and Tommy Hilfiger showing clothes that you can purchase immediately. Do you think if we increasingly move toward see-now-buy-now fashion, does that change the kind of casting that you’re going to do; that the shows are being aimed at consumers as much as the industry?
Maybe the girls who have Instagram power will get bigger as they can go right to the consumer. Some people think they are the new supermodels, but I don’t think so. I don’t think it’s going to change drastically the aesthetic and concept for each brand.
How do you see what you do changing in the future?
What I feel that we need to do now is develop the careers of models. If we keep changing them each season, they don’t develop and they don’t grow up. If we keep doing like this, in 10 years, who’s going to be the next icon? We need to be careful to support the girls who really care about this business and help them to grow and support them through shows, advertising, and editorials.
I would say it’s the same with us—we want to keep supporting the designers we believe in. We want people to grow and have careers in the industry and not just disappear in a year or two.
Exactly, and like a model, it takes time to develop. Sometimes you really need to fight with your clients to bring a girl back. It’s a selection and then when you run into people like Rianne, Lexi, or Anna Ewers. Or like Taylor Hill. I first worked with her for Anthony’s Versus show, and everyone thought she was too commercial, but now she’s growing up and everyone wants her. She’s really fighting. She started from scratch and now she’s getting where she wants.
Tell me a little bit about this notion of bringing back.
I think you are part of the success of that. I saw a story in Vogue recently with Carolyn and Rianne, and I didn’t feel Carolyn looked old. Is beauty about age? I don’t think so. When you look at people like Carolyn Murphy and Amber Valletta, you realize these women who are, like, 40 years old are still so beautiful. It’s about expressing yourself and carrying yourself in a couture dress.
Who else would you like to see come back?
Article: Charles Daniel McDonald
Photography: Piergiorgio Del Moro / Each respective design house