Discrimination and Cruelty: The Inhumane side of Paris Fashion Week

After his powerful speech at Business of Fashion’s Voices in December, casting director James Scully kept true to his word from that speech, and started pointing out by name those within the fashion industry who perpetrate any kind of cruelty to or discrimination of models. Scully publicly exposed himself on his Instagram account, which drove attention to a recent incident that occurred at the latest Balenciaga casting in Paris just a few weeks ago. He addressed well-known casting agents Maida Gregori Boina and Rami Fernandes as “serial abusers” as they “held a casting in which they made over 150 girls wait in a stairwell and told them that they would have to stay over 3 hours to be seen and not to leave”. After that, the lights to the stairwell were turned off and they went to lunch, leaving the young women with only the light from their phones to see by.

This post was shared by hundreds of people and received many comments from models like Lara Stone and Joan Smalls, to name a few, who thanked Scully for giving a voice to all the individuals unable to speak out for themselves because they are afraid, would lose their jobs, or even worse blame themselves for such ludicrous happenings driven exclusively by indifferent individuals driven exclusively by their ego and lust for power.

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

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Boina and Fernandes, who have both since been fired by Balenciaga have released a statement to BoF in denial of Scully’s allegations, which they called “inaccurate and libellous” and shifting the blame to the French maison for the inadequate facility provided and the maintenance staff for not resolving an electricity issue that occurred later that evening. The casting agents gave their own version of the story, and moreover made themselves spokesmen about issues of social and racial inequalities within the industry, claiming that “it is extremely important to raise awareness” but “it is also necessary to research the source and details of any story to ensure we elevate our cause and make progress”.

Model Judith Schlitz broke the silence and left a comment on James Scully’s post stating how she was one of the 150 young women waiting in the stairwell, who had just left after seeing “the casting director screaming at us to go out – outside, in the dark – and told us that we were like groupies in a concert”. Furthermore, further model Mollie Gondi wrote that “Maida would request me season after season to do the exact same thing. Lock me in a room for 3 hours while everyone panicked, only to never, ever book me”.

Boina and her team have come under criticism for the lack of diversity in their casting on the runway, seen as a racism issue that recurs during the latest PFW, which Scully also addressed in his post where he wrote that he “heard from several agents, some of whom are black, that they have received mandates from Lanvin that they do not want to be presented with women of color”. Eventually, there were two black models walking down the Lanvin catwalk, which was not deemed appropriately representative of global diversity.

This was, of course, only the tip of the iceberg. Discrimination issues that concern race, size and age among models is more frequent than we imagine, and yet we still have very little awareness of this inconceivable situation perpetrated not only by casting directors, but also by photographers and stylists, because they also have a hold on these frequently underage girls or boys who leave their own country at their expense to pursue their dreams. Yet their dreams turn into a deception, and despair ensues. These “fashion professionals” feel as if they are in a position that enables them to threaten these girls and boys in order to make them do whatever they want, or otherwise be barred from working in the fashion industry ever again according to Scully during his talk at BoF’s Voices. One of his suggestions called the big fashion groups into question during their hiring processes, and examined who works for them, suggesting that “it’s time to investigate what these people are doing on behalf of your company.” After all, everyone is responsible for him or herself, and should be able to stand up for and do the right thing and oppose discrimination and petty behaviors.

Cover photo: Rex Features

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