It’s that time of the year again where designers come together in arguably the world’s best dressed city and showcase their exquisite designs to set the latest trends for this year’s seasons. I am writing about none other than the highly esteemed Paris Fashion Week.

Unfortunately, this year Fashion Week was shadowed by shocking rumours of model mistreatment at a casting for the Balenciaga runway show. The house is no stranger to controversy as last year Demna Gvasalia’s FW16 Balenciaga debut left many unsatisfied by the exclusively white cast of models. Gvasalia’s Vetements presentation also featured no models of colour, as has been the tradition since 2014. The storm went wide when James Scully, another casting director who previously called out Balenciaga for Gvasalia’s all-white FW16 cast, took to Instagram yet again to publicly air the accusations.

So true to my promise at #bofvoices that I would be a voice for any models, agents or all who see things wrong with this business I'm disappointed to come to Paris and hear that the usual suspects are up to the same tricks. I was very disturbed to hear from a number of girls this morning that yesterday at the Balenciaga casting Madia & Rami (serial abusers) held a casting in which they made over 150 girls wait in a stairwell told them they would have to stay over 3 hours to be seen and not to leave. In their usual fashion they shut the door went to lunch and turned off the lights, to the stairs leaving every girl with only the lights of their phones to see. Not only was this sadistic and cruel it was dangerous and left more than a few of the girls I spoke with traumatized. Most of the girls have asked to have their options for Balenciaga cancelled as well as Hermes and Ellie Saab who they also cast for because they refuse to be treated like animals. Balenciaga part of Kering it is a public company and these houses need to know what the people they hire are doing on their behalf before a well deserved law suit comes their way. On top of that I have 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. And another big house is trying to sneak 15 year olds into paris! 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 but god forbid well sacrifice anything or anyone for an exclusive right? If this behavior continues it's gonna be a long cold week in paris. Please keep sharing your stories with me and I will continue to to share them for you. It seems to be the only way we can force change and give the power back to you models and agents where it rightfully belongs. And I encourage any and all to share this post #watchthisspace

A post shared by james scully (@jamespscully) on

“I was very disturbed to hear from a number of girls this morning that yesterday at the Balenciaga casting Madia & Ramy (serial abusers) held a casting in which they made over 150 girls wait in a stairwell told them they would have to stay over 3 hours to be seen and not to leave,” wrote Sully.

“In their usual fashion they shut the door went to lunch and turned off the lights to the stairs leaving every girl with only the lights of their phones to see. Not only was this sadistic and cruel it was dangerous and left more than a few of the girls I spoke with traumatized. Most of the girls have asked to have their options for Balenciaga cancelled as well as Hermes and Ellie Saab who they also cast for because they refuse to be treated like animals.”

Stylist and trend forecaster, Jason Campbell, rightly stated how exclusionary casting could potentially harm business in the long run, especially when faced with competition from labels that have taken the pressure to diversify seriously. For example, Gucci’s latest campaign included multicultural representation through its model selection and another high end fashion house, Celine, jumped on the natural hair bandwagon by way of campaign star Karly Loyce.

“The fashion industry has a disturbing history of abuse and exploitation”

Balenciaga has now released a statement confirming the rumours of alleged model mistreatment and that the Kering-owned house cut ties with the casting directors in question, Maida Gregori Boina and Rami Fernandes.

“On Sunday, February 26th Balenciaga took notice of issues with the model castings carried out on that day,” read a statement from the company released to The Cut and other publications. “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.”

The fashion industry has a disturbing history of abuse and exploitation but Scully’s decision to expose model abuse and racial exclusivity in castings, by publicly denouncing his colleagues, is the first step towards achieving real change in the sadistic practises of some casting directors.

This has been demonstrated by the aforementioned designer, Demna Gvasalia, when he set out a diverse set of models for his last show to correct his image after he received a public rebuke by Scully. Another ray of hope to squash racial prejudices and casting stereotypes was the debut of the first Hijab wearing model, Halima Aden in New York’s Fashion Week.

Hopefully, new-age platforms, such as social media, will fight to keep the ethics of fashion industry in check and to reflect the ever changing demographic of today’s multicultural society.

Paasha Ahmed

Image Credit – Volkan Olmez via Unsplash

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