At Paris Fashion Week, the fashion industry revived its penchant for drama and noted casting director James Scully took to social media to post a scathing exposé on what went down at last Sunday's Balenciaga casting. You can see Scully’s original Instagram post below, in which he calls out casting directors Maida Gregori Boina and Rami Fernandes, who he describes as “serial abusers.”
After Scully heard multiple firsthand reports of more than 150 girls left waiting for over three hours in a dark staircase without light as Boina and Fernandes left the building and went to lunch, he made good on a promise to whistle-blow indecent behavior in the fashion industry, and named and shamed Boina and Fernandes in his post.
Balenciaga, which is owned by the French luxury conglomerate Kering, quickly responded by terminating its relationship with Boina and Fernandes on the same day as Scully's post, issuing a statement that said the company was “making radical changes to the casting process, including discontinuing the relationship with the current casting agency” and that it had sent “a written apology to the agencies of the models who were affected by this specific situation.”
Tales of abuse and exploitation in fashion is nothing new, but Scully’s decision to lift the lid on model abuse by publicly denouncing his colleagues is a rare feat. The accused, Boina and Fernandes, have since responded to Scully’s accusation with a statement that defects blame back to Balenciaga.
“It is important to stop the spread of rumors and set the record straight,” Maida Gregori tells Business of Fashion. “To directly address these accusations, the models did not wait for three hours in the dark, not even one hour. Balenciaga provided us with the casting facility, and its senior staff was present and actively involved at all times."
Both the fashion press and the industry’s top models have come out in support of Scully's bold move and added their own two cents. You can see some of the conversation unfold below, including supermodel Edie Campbell’s thoughts on the fiasco.
Despite Boina and Fernandes’s rebuttal, it’s difficult to simply accept such accusations as hearsay. Most especially when rumors about the mistreatment of models in fashion are nothing new. However, this moment marks a rare occasion where these kinds of accusations have been aired so publicly and vigorously.
Though Balenciaga was quick to disavow Boina and Fernandes’s misconduct, it’s bizarre to think such a big luxury house wasn't actively involved in the casting process of its own show, and on hand to prevent the alleged behavior. It isn't clear whether the house is launching an internal investigation among its own senior staff to see what went wrong.
Scully also called out Lanvin, who reportedly told casting directors that they did not want to be presented with models of color. Lanvin has quickly denied the claims. Given that the modeling industry as a whole is plagued by diversity issues, this is hardly surprising. The historic French fashion house presented its FW17 collection at Paris Fashion Week yesterday and featured only two black models (out of 53 looks).
Lanvin’s FW17 menswear show fared slightly better when it came to diversity by including eight black models (out of 53 looks). Balenciaga is no stranger to diversity controversy either. Demna Gvasalia’s FW16 Balenciaga debut may have been critically acclaimed but many publications hit out at the label’s decision to include an exclusively white cast of models. Since 2014, Gvasalia has also featured zero models of color at his own ultra-hyped label Vetements.
Whatever the truth is behind Scully's claims, it seems that the fashion industry has opened a new chapter, one where the bullying, cruelty, racism and discrimination rife in fashion's modeling industry is no longer facilitated, and the perpetrators can expect to pay the consequences in an age where social media can serve swift justice.
UPDATE: Outside of Balenciaga's FW17 show, a group of young, black models protested outside the venue with banners that read 'Black Models Matter'. This protest comes after Gvasalia repeated use of an exclusively white cast of models at both his Vetements runway shows and previous seasons at Balenciaga and the aforementioned alleged abuse at the French house's latest casting. This season, however, it seems that Gvasalia and Balenciaga have reconsidered their position on racial diversity and opted to feature four black models (out of 47 looks).
For more in-depth fashion reportage, read our take on Balenciaga's diversity issue here.