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For those with a preconceived “America’s Next Top Model”-influenced notion of what a model casting may be like, Nicole Miller’s iteration for her fall 2020 runway show likely wasn’t far off.
The casting, which took place on Monday for Sunday’s show, was held at Miller’s Garment District-based showroom, where racks of clothing line the walls. Near the entrance, a large TV screen played last season’s runway show on repeat, and models in photo-ready street styles — mostly black — sat in couches waiting for their turn to be called into a closed-off section of the room. There, Miller, casting agent Jon James and Shoshana Tuszer, who once designed for Nicole Miller, sat to one side of two long tables, notepads and models’ comp cards in arms’ reach. In front of them was an open room with strips of tape marking a squared-off figure-eight dotting the floor, meant to serve as a walking guide. Music was blaring.
One by one, models were called in to sell the judges on their look, and walk, via a lap around the room. For some, those 30 or so seconds defined the audition. Those deemed strong prospects for the show were asked by James to try-on a look from the fall collection and to strut again. Overall, the casting was a two-day process, set to continue the following day for four hours.
“You have to understand they do this 12 to 15 times a day,” said James, in regard to some models’ over-it vibe. It’s no easy feat, considering showrooms are now strewn throughout the city, no longer clustered around Nicole Miller’s Seventh Avenue HQ, he said.
James has been a casting agent for 16 years. He started his own agency after working as a freelancer in production, followed by working for another casting director. He’s long been Miller’s go-to, and this season, he’s working with her exclusively. He said he’s always coaxing Miller into changing it up, in terms of her show’s model cast.
With social media enabling criticism and backlash, and much of Gen-Z exclusively supporting brands with relatable values, it would seem showing a diverse range of runway models would be a no-brainer for fashion brands. Even so, many have yet to go there. According to online fashion publication The Fashion Spot’s seasonal diversity report for the spring 2020 season, of the 7,390 model castings at 215 major shows, 42% were models of color, 86 models were plus-size and 39 were age 50 years or older.
“We’re working boys into the mix this season,” said Miller, of the lineup. “And so far, they’ve been fitting pretty well in the girls’ clothes.”
For the fall 2020 season, male models wearing Nicole Miller styles are the brand’s shtick. Last season, it was featuring former supermodels ages 50-plus, including Pat Cleveland and Veronica Webb. The theme for the fall collection and show show is Rock N’ Royalty, “considering how royalty has been in the news,” said Miller.
The male models were James’ idea. He said he’d like to get six men in the lineup, with each wearing one look. “She was interested, but hesitant,” he said, of getting Miller on board. Miller noted the bonus: Male models are cheaper.
Miller was also booking “curvy” models for the first time. In seasons’ past, she’d exclusively shown models sizes 0 and 2. Her line goes up to 14.
“We just decided we would see what the options were out there, since everyone’s so into diversity these days,” she said. “We thought we would see what the other girls are like.”
“If I had my way, we’d have at least four [curve] models,” said James. “How many are you thinking, Nicole?”
“One, maybe two,” she said.
As for whether age diversity would also be part of this season’s show: “No, we did that last season,” said Miller.
As models were called into the room, one by one, they walked to a soundtrack of Diana Ross’ “I’m Coming Out” and The Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil.” Some were instructed by James to “Turn the energy up,” “Take off your jacket and throw it over your shoulder,” “Take off your glasses.” Many simply got a thank-you as they exited.
Between models, the table compared reviews: “Too slow a walk,” “Too pretty,” “Needed more energy,” “Good walk,” “Good body type,” “Too tiny.” One models’ high-waist pants were a turnoff, said Miller.
She noted the trend in curly-shaggy hair, à la Jessica Biel in “Flashdance.” She said she’d keep it natural for the show versus force a uniform look. The hair would be the whole reason to cast them, she said.
“There’s a different [model] trend every season,” she said. “At one point, it was this, almost, geeky walk. In the ’90s, they just went stoic. You couldn’t get them to smile, no matter what.”
On one end of the table, Miller and Tuszer organized one set of comp cards together. The had an “A pile,” with the models they definitely wanted, and an “almost pile,” with those they were considering, for example. “We tend to be on the same page,” said Tuszer.
James had four piles: A, B, C and D. He said he pre-casts at his own office by viewing 500 to 600 models from various agencies. He cuts those down to around 150, who Miller sees. Thirty-two models were to be cast for the show. James said he never books a model based on photos alone.
James said he also doesn’t look at models’ Instagram followings when booking for a show, but that campaigns are a different story. “Some clients require a certain number of followers,” he said. “The whole industry has changed so drastically because of technology and social media. When I started, [agents] were using Polaroids and Fed Ex’ing a binder of them to clients, and they’d call and tell you who they liked. Now they just send a link.”
Other changes include the overall number of models (more) and fashion shows (fewer), James said. It used to be that every designer would use the same models, multiple times in a show. Miller recalled once dressing Sasha Pivovarova and Coco Rocha in three looks each. In the years prior, “if you didn’t get Christy Turlington and Linda Evangelista, you’d want to slit your wrist,” said Miller. The move toward a more diverse lineup has meant a larger pool of models to choose from.
Miller’s two-day casting was just the beginning, she said. Afterward, James would do his “fancy footwork” to secure her requests with the agencies. That typically involves agencies negotiating a package deal by providing a requested model in exchange for the designer booking two more models from the agency. And often, models fall off due to conflicting job bookings and travel.
But, Miller said, she usually gets the models she wants.
“I’m definitely not looking to reflect [the customer base],” she said, regarding her model picks. “I mean, we’re dressing boys. We just want to give the show an attitude and a point of view. And be inclusive.”
Miller said the average age of a shopper that visits the brand’s e-commerce site is 20-35, but those who actually spend money are older.
“For a lookbook, more of a customer look may work,” agreed Tuszer. “But no, not for the runway.”
3 Questions With LaQuan Smith
Glossy talked with the designer backstage before his Saturday night show.
Why is a NYFW show worth it for a young designer?
It’s super worth it. Designers only get to say what they want to say two times a year. You have less than six months to prepare and work on something that the entire fashion world is going to judge and critique. So it’s an emotional place for a designer to be able to showcase at fashion week, but it’s also a celebration, because you can look back and see how much hard work has gone into something. And every fashion week is not going to be your best fashion week. It’s nice to build on that portfolio and learn from the past, like: “This didn’t work out before, so let’s do this differently.” That’s with collections, that’s with budgets, that’s with production, that’s with everything. It’s a nice growing exercise that any designer can have to show at fashion week.
What does it do for your brand when a Rihanna or a Kim Kardashian wears one of your designs?
First and foremost, it’s important that the look is authentic to the woman or the pop star who’s wearing it. I never want a woman to look like she was just styled in LaQuan; I want her to always look like she pulled it out of her closet. But because we’re living in such a social media age, yes — sales go off the roof and social media followers go up.
Everyone walks on eggshells, in terms of promoting “sexy” — but you lead with sexy. Why?
Every woman wants to be desired. Every woman wants to feel and look beautiful, and through that comes sensuality. For me, I want to celebrate that and bring that back. There used to be a time when women would dress up and wear skirt suits to work. Now everyone’s wearing leggings and sweaters and streetwear, which I’m not knocking, but that’s not the woman I’m inspired by. For me, it’s a breath of fresh air to bring back this New Age glamour, and my way is unapologetic.
Beauty YouTuber Patrick Starrr talking to his phone in the front row at LaQuan Smith.
The Blonds show consistently doubles as the party of the season and never fails to feature a star-studded model lineup. Following last season’s Paris Hilton cameo, tonight’s show, which kicks off at 9pm at Spring Studios, will feature international pop star Natti Natasha. The after party, at the Fleur Room, is set to go until 2am.