What makes you stop and stare at a billboard, pause while you flip through the pages of a magazine, or bookmark a social media post for future inspiration? While there’s tens of thousands of hopefuls, it takes a je ne sais quoi combination of qualities for a model to be the quintessential fit for a particular collection, campaign, or catwalk. No one knows this like Stefanie Stein, one of the industry’s most well-known casting directors. We caught up with her post-a whirlwind fashion week to hear how she identifies the often-unidentifiable, what turns a photographer into a household name, and how, as a busy mom-of-four, she gets it all done.
How was your fashion week? What did an average day look like for you?
September fashion week typically collides with the start of the school year for my kids, so it’s a very hectic but stimulating time for everyone in my house. Wake up is very early and I don’t always get the best sleep during NYFW—but there’s always a higher level of excitement and anticipation that keeps me energized.
If someone asks what a casting director does, how do you explain your work to them?
I am the secret sauce; the glue that makes the process work. Someone once called me that on a shoot and it has stuck with me ever since. I help the brand put the various pieces of puzzle together and I guide them to make the best decisions for their shows and campaigns.
Tell us a little about what you were up to during NYFW?
I worked with two of my loyal clients, PatBo and LoveshackFancy, this season. Any show requires a lot of attention to detail and it’s important for me to be able to dedicate enough of my time to make sure the casting is as perfect as possible and that each designer gets to work with me directly.
How long do you usually work on a project for? And how long do things usually take to come to fruition?
Each project has unique timeline with different requirements, asks, and needs. I’ve been hired for jobs that needed a 24-hour turnaround. Alternatively, for Old Navy’s Bodequality campaign, we started a good six months before the shoot. For shows, conversations about the talent can begin as early as four to six months prior to the season.
What did an average day look like for you during the NYFW calendar for you?
It’s busy for sure. I wake up and do a quick meditation, and I try and squeeze in a 6AM Pilates class at my favorite studio, Studio Metamorphosis. I race home and I make lunches for my family (and a Matcha for myself) and then I am off to drop my kids at school. After that, I hit the “go go go” button. I start each day at the designer’s studio and it’s either go-sees, fittings, or hair and make up tests. I bop around from designer to designer all day long. I sometimes see over 300 models during a day. Then I race home to take my kids to their soccer practices and try and put some food on the table for my family and then I continue to work. And then I do it all over again!
Are there any things you’re working on this season that are a first for you, or a career highlight?
There have been so many. Don’t make me pick! But, if I had to, a memory that will forever stick is the Gloria Vanderbilt campaign I cast that included Gisele, Kate Moss, and Daria Werbowy with Inez & Vinoodh. A total “pinch me” moment.
What’s your favorite thing about your work?
That I get to work with the most creative and talented people in the industry. My job has afforded me the opportunity to be an autonomous business woman, and also a present and involved mother raising four children. It can’t get better than that.
What are some changes in the industry you’ve been glad to see in recent years?
The industry has realized that you can find unexpected talent by advancing diversity and inclusivity. I get to create more opportunities without regard for the status quo—and I have always been a champion of this throughout my career.
In what ways does NYFW differ from your usual schedule, or do you find with the current output, there’s no off-season anymore?
The combination of my business and my kids keep me busy all year round, but when NYFW hits, it’s this non-stop, high
energy feeling, which I love and thrive on. I am also out of the office and running around the city. My husband calls me a firefighter because I am putting out fires all day long.
Are you often traveling for work?
I recently opened up an LA office, so I occasionally head there depending on my clients’ needs, but I am mostly in NYC. I try to limit my travel so I can spend more time with my family. It’s a decision I made a long time ago. I always say in 20 years, I will be grateful for doing it this way. But never say never, if the right client comes along, I would be there in a minute.
Memory lane time! Tell us five campaigns or shows that you’re most proud of working on?
You guys are hard! Stefanie Stein Casting just celebrated our 15 year anniversary and I have been casting for 20 years. For shows, some of my fondest memories are starting out with Joseph Altuzarra. He was in the earliest stages of his career and we put everything into his shows. I mean EVERYTHING! I love working on Brock Collection and Wes Gordon. There is something truly magical working with young designers, being part of the process and helping them build their brands. I love to be a part of that progress and grow with them. Highlights from campaigns would be all the early work I cast while I was in house at AR with Raul Martinez and Alex Gonzalez. I’ve worked with Tiffany & Co, Tom Ford, Tommy Hilfiger, Old Navy, and Olay, and so many more…each has been rewarding in its own way.
You’ve worked with the best photographers in the world—what’s one quality or characteristic you think that they all have in common?
That they all have the most keen eye and the highest level of detail for each image. Every image has a purpose.
What excites you about a new face?
It’s this feeling when a model walks in and you just know they have “it.” There is something about the way they look, the way they carry themselves, and you say to yourself, “They are going to be the next big thing.” There’s that unknown quality that embodies a reason to pay attention. It’s a feeling and when it hits, there’s nothing better.
You must always need to keep on the lookout for talent—where are you discovering new names and getting inspiration from the most these days?
Everywhere! There isn’t one place. I always have my eyes open. From the streets of NYC to social media, like TikTok. You gotta be where the kids are at.
What can up-and-comers be doing more of to get in front of casting directors like yourself?
It’s all about authenticity, being yourself, and showing off your personality and confidence. Anyone can be whoever they want to be. There is a level of acceptance now for this, so truly be you. Engagement in social media plays a role these days, just to get a better idea of who the talent truly is. When I meet a talent, I want to get to know them and understand who they are.
When you look at your body of work, what’s one thing you hope it inspires in others?
That they feel the dedication and passion that I bring to each and every project I have worked on. I treat every job like it’s my last and I am truly grateful for all the work that comes my way.