The Fashion Week Diversity Problem, From a Casting Director's Point of View
Season after season, the lack of diversity on the runway is addressed with little more than a circular blame game. (Consumers and the media blame the brands, who blame "the market" — a.k.a. consumers, and the media they're influenced by.) But for London-based casting director Mischa Notcutt, the responsibility is clear: Brands have the autonomy over the vision they want to project. When that vision is narrow, it's up to their casting directors to challenge them to be more inclusive.
“I don’t feel comfortable when [a show’s] not diverse,” Notcutt told Business of Fashion in 2017 in an article celebrating “a new generation of casting directors putting diversity first." She went on to say, "especially when you’ve got 20 or 30 models in the show, there’s simply no excuse.”
After graduating from Central Saint Martins, Notcutt chose to pursue styling over designing, and she went on to work with big names in music, like MIA and Skepta; publications like Dazed and i-D, and companies including Adidas. Eventually, she says casting was a natural career progression, and Notcutt started collaborating with It brands like MISBHV, Ashish, Asai, and Cottweiler under her agency 11 Casting. They may not be the biggest names, but their shows are known — and applauded — for the representative mix of races, ages, and genders among their models. That’s in no small part thanks to Notcutt and her vision.
At a time when the runways are under heavy scrutiny, people like Notcutt are helping create a new norm — one where Fashion Week better reflects the fans and consumers that fashion should be serving. See what she has to say about this moment, and the role of casting directors like herself, below.
Tell me about how you got into casting. Was there a project that made you feel like you’d ‘made it?’
“I got into casting through styling. It kinds of goes hand in hand; I used to cast models for my own shoots. Doing my first ever show on my own was definitely a step to ‘I've made it,’ but I’ve still got more to go.”
What was that first show?
“Liam Hodges, which I have now worked with for eight seasons.”
Do you have an ultimate dream casting gig?
“My dream would be to do a big house show like Louis Vuitton, Prada, or Margiela, and then a couture show. Galliano at Dior — but I would need a time machine!”
Talk me through your casting process. When you're choosing models for a show, who ultimately has the final say over the “look” the brand is looking for?
“Most brands have a core person that they feel they represent, but it also depends on what the mood/inspiration is of that season's collection. I come in and elaborate on that. Ultimately, the brand has the final say, but with most of the companies I work with, I like to say it’s a collaboration."
Have you ever disagreed with a brand’s vision and had to walk away?
“No, I haven’t.”
What do you look for when casting models? What about when casting "real" people?
“I love people and their characters. I love faces and symmetry in all forms. So whether they’re a model or not, the same parameters exist. When building a cast for a show, I like to look at similarities across races and genders; I try to create a unified look or sense familiarity all the way through so the models look like they exist together.”
Do you prefer working with models or "real" people?
“I have no preference, I just like working with nice people.”
How important is the role of casting directors when it comes to adding diversity of any type to a runway show or campaign?
“Ultimately, it comes down to the brand. Casting directors can present a diverse group of models, but the decision comes down to the client. However, I am not scared of having a conversation about why [diversity] isn't being considered and the fact there is a lack of it in a lineup. But I’m lucky that all the brands I work with push for this.”
Speaking of the brands you've worked with, labels like Ashish are applauded for their use of so many different types of models. Why do you think they "get it" when so many others don't?
“I think that's a larger conversation. There are so many factors. Some brands do not see it for their customer, some customers don't feel diversity is attractive. Beauty standards need to be broken down, which is something everyone needs to be behind. Everyone is beautiful, and race shouldn't be a factor for not getting a job.”
How have you watched the industry evolve since you first started out?
“It definitely has got better in some ways. There is a lot more awareness of being diverse and I think the treatment of models [has improved]. I am really lucky to have mainly worked with people who have been professional at all times, but I have heard the stories. However, there is still room for grow with diversity and inclusivity, and protection of models in the industry. We all have the right to work in a safe, professional environment.”
What responsibility do you feel you have as a casting director to ensure the companies you work for really embrace diversity and inclusivity?
“I think we have to be prepared to have hard conversations with brands and ask: Why wouldn't they want to be diverse or inclusive in 2019?”