It’s little wonder that during the latest incarnation of New York fashion week, Time, The New York Times and The Huffington Post all dealt with the phenomena of the casting call. In The New York Times, Australian-born design duo TOME spoke of instant decisions communicated through tiny movements, of discreet nods and glances indicating who will walk and who won’t make the cut. Of course there were other industry issues up for public discussion – new state legislation that made it difficult to cast models under 18 (classing them as ‘child performers’) and a continued lack of diverse racial representation. But the very idea of a ‘model casting’ – how it happens and who’s involved – seemed to pique the interest of onlookers a little more than usual.
In Australia too, the model casting call is shrouded in mystery. What happens in these rooms, full of leggy teens and 20-somethings, all hoping to be booked? How are models expected to present themselves? Rick Matthew, a women’s booker at Priscillas Model Management, says preparing younger models (‘new faces’) who have recently been signed often necessitates a daily briefing. “[For those] who may be experiencing their first fashion week, we have them come to the agency each morning before they head out on their day of casting; pulling apart their suitcase, work shopping outfit options and teaching them the most premium way to present themselves,” says Matthew. “Attitude is an extremely important attribute to a model no matter what time of the year, but patience is very necessary leading up to shows; sometimes waiting hours to see a casting director or stylist for only minutes.”
In the lead up to MBFWA, we met with Courtney Mitchell, a new face signed to Priscillas. The 19-year-old relocated from Queensland to Sydney after finishing school to take her chances on a career she had fantasised about since age 13. In her early teens, Mitchell was cutting pages from Vogue editorials, affixing images of Catherine McNeil, Gemma Ward and Danish face Freja Beha Erichsen to her wardrobe doors. “Walking was my first break and I was pinching myself,” she says, of her taste of the catwalk with Maticevski last year. “I walked with Julia Nobis, who’s my idol. I told her it was a bit of a fan-girl moment and asked for a photo.”
Juggling study, part-time employment and the capricious, often demanding nature of modelling castings isn’t currently possible for Mitchell. Instead of trying to fit everything in, she has her sights solely focused on pursuing the latter. Having worked in Korea for three months, walked Melbourne Fashion Festival and Chanel’s recent show in Perth; she’s spent the last week flitting between 20-odd castings. In the fast-paced scheduling of shows, a full day of casting appointments is only confirmed by her agency via email the night before. “I have to be ready for anything,” Mitchell says. “It might say, ‘Be here at 11am, here at 12.15pm and here at 5pm’ and I just have to navigate that. Getting to castings is up to me.” Appointments may be a quick go-see or meet and greet, with each model scheduled a few minutes apart. In other cases, there are ‘cattle calls’, with 100 or more hopefuls enduring the long wait together, knowing they have just a few moments to confirm the promises of their booking cards.
While Priscillas’ bookers add tips to their casting emails – dress codes and professional pointers to enable models to research the industry heavyweights they’ll meet – it’s necessary to take initiative and build resilience quickly. Like most, Mitchell wears basic tees and fitted denim to meet designers, keeping her face make-up free, and engaging in positive self-talk. “If you're nervous, you can see it,” Mitchell says. Helping to set her apart from “the girls who are shaking and really over-thinking it,” Mitchtell studied drama in high school, and tells herself she is playing a part.
“Staying positive in this profession is a must,” says Matthew. “For interstate or international girls in particular, we are their family, and the agency; their home. Every one of our models knows we are contactable from any city or time zone in the world. I am WhatsApp-ing girls who are in hair and make up at London fashion week while I'm on the other side of the world walking home from the office.”
This week, Mitchell, all dewy skin and articulate observations, will walk in at least four shows, including Ellery, Maticevski, Jayson Brunsdon and Aje. In September she’ll depart for New York to try her hand at the spring season, something her agency calls “a whole new ball game.” Speaking with Mitchell, you get the sense she has developed coping mechanisms for rejection and a mature sense of acceptance that she cannot alter fate. “At the end of the day, all of us are the same,” she says. “We’re young, we have these genetics and we just want to get booked. I really don't like the drama of the competition. I just think to myself, do your best and be nice. If it’s meant to be, it will be.”
Stay tuned as we catch up with Courtney Mitchell once more after MBFWA concludes.