(NEW YORK) Tom Ford and Carolina Herrera rely on veteran casting agent James Scully to keep their runways stocked with of-the-moment beauties. But despite his prime perch in the industry, the outspoken Scully never plays it safe.
BY EDDIE ROCHE
How did you end up as the town’s go-to Casting Guy?
Literally, on my first day of class of college, there was a bulletin board for a fashion show at Bergdorf Goodman where they needed backstage help. It didn’t say what it was, so I just cut class and went. It was 1983 and it turned out to be the first couture collection Karl Lagerfeld did for Chanel, so Bergdorf created the whole show inside the store. The show bug bit me at that particular moment. After that, I was a buyer at Charivari, and Kevin Krier, a fashion show producer and PR agent who handled our PR, offered me a job. My first client, who I cast and produced for on my own, was Todd Oldham.
Who were the models?
Christy, Linda, Naomi—it was supermodel city. That was the early ’90s. The era of the famous Peter Lindbergh supermodel Mugler cover. That was about the best.
How has the scene changed?
New York was just shows, shows, shows! It was all about Isaac. It was all about Anna Sui. It was about Todd. Everyone had a show! It was really the golden era of fashion show production in Europe. Versace was a show. The production values of today just don’t even compare. We went from the ostentatious ’80s to everyone being embarrassed that they had money, so Jil Sander became the bellwether of everything. It was about understated clothes and it was also about understated show production. That was really the beginning of the straight runway, the straight nothing, the nothing girl. Every city felt like it’s own capital! The shows were longer, and really the beginning of the straight runway, the straight nothing, the nothing girl. Every city felt like its own capital! The shows were longer, and there were fewer of them. And girls were allowed to perform!
What does that mean?
The difference between girls now and then is now anyone will fill a spot for a girl in any show. In the past, you’d have Kate Moss falling all over the floor because she was playing a girl being chased by a pirate. That kind of imagination doesn’t exist on any level and people can’t look at a girl now and say, “I can see her as five different characters.”
Do you think it still exists?
There are lots of girls with that quality, there certainly are. But the business stamps them out. For every 20 colorless, faceless girls you have one Karlie Kloss, one Joan Smalls, one Cara Delevingne. The reason those girls are successful is because they have that X factor.
Why isn’t the industry seeking more of that?
A lot of people are just trying to be cool. To be quite honest, I can’t figure it out, because you certainly still do have big shows. You have Dior, you have the sets, you have the flowers… For me there’s a disconnect. I don’t know why people are afraid of performance.
Do you encourage this as a casting director?
I try. A lot of people I work with, like Jason Wu, want a performer. Tom Ford needs that glamour—you need a girl who can take on that character once she’s got the fur and the boots and the beads. The same with Herrera. I need girls that can come off as ladies and rich women on Park Avenue. But that’s just my thing. It’s the kind of show I gravitate toward. Even Stella McCartney—I need a girl who really has had life experience and that radiates something to Stella.
How many girls do you see for a Herrera show?
I end up seeing hundreds of girls. There are some designers who completely change the whole look and the cast every season. In general, I would say most designers have at least two thirds of the cast coming back. So with Carolina Herrera, we always use 42. So we usually have 30 to 35 girls coming back. Then I will see a whole group of new girls that comes in and that process takes about a week. There are so many agencies, so I have to see everyone from those agencies that’s interesting to me.
Does anybody tip you off to who’s hot?
Oh, yes. People from all over the world, an agent from Paris, an agent from Germany, will say, “Here’s a great girl, here’s a great guy, you should be watching out for them.” You get a lot of information all year round. Three years ago Amanda Murphy—we all met her; she had short hair, she was really cute, she was kind of this all-American girl. I think she decided she didn’t want to have much to do with the business, or she wasn’t ready. Then all of the sudden last summer they were like, Amanda Murphy is back, and you just knew when you saw her there was going to be a buzz.
Are any of the girls divas these days?
No! They don’t even last long enough or have the kind of careers that would allow them. Even in the days of Linda and Naomi, their diva-ness was also what made them. It probably happened more on shoots than it did during the show circuit because circuits just happen faster. Those girls are still never late, they still perform, they still do everything you need them to do, so it’s part of the package. Now there are too many stylists in control so if a girl ever had diva-esque behavior, they just wouldn’t use her anymore.
You worked for Harper’s Bazaar for a stint.
I worked with Kate Betts when she was in charge as a bookings director while I still did shows on the side. After Bazaar, I just had had enough. I saw this whole celebrity thing coming in, I thought it was a bad thing; everyone else thought it was a great thing. It just wasn’t something I wanted to be a part of anymore. So I kind of took a few years off to think about what I wanted to do next.
What bothered you so much?
The whole red carpet thing is phony. I think it’s sad that we now live in a world where we pay adoration to mediocrity. There is really nothing very interesting about a person who borrows clothes, rents houses, and leases cars and says, “This is how I live.” It’s not. I feel like the whole fashion industry kind of pulled the wool over our eyes and I know celebrities made for great quick-sale covers, but now I feel like we are left with the aftermath of that. They’re not really that interesting. That whole era of Gwyneth and Nicole, that’s over and I just don’t feel like this new breed of celebrities is anywhere near as interesting. And they come and they go so fast! I had to book a lot of those covers for Bazaar, and dealing with celebrity people is one of the things that made me quit my job. It made me sick to my stomach. If most people really knew how these people behaved in real life, they would not see their movies and they would not buy their magazine covers. I knew too much about them. That was really the second go-round for me thinking I had to get out of the business.
What brought you back?
Stella McCartney and Derek Lam. Derek had just started his own company and I saw his first collection, and I ended up producing his show.
You’ve been partners with [Tom Ford COO] Tom Mendenhall for quite some time now…
We met at the store Charivari. This year will be coming up on 25 years!
Do you guys find yourselves talking about fashion when he gets home from work?
No. He’s on the business side. He loves what he does and he loves his business, but no. One thing I like about what I do, is that it allows me time off. Like, when the men’s shows end and I take that six weeks off, I’m done. By the time I come back in September, I brush up and come back fresh. That’s what gets me revved up.
You do a lot of work in a very short amount of time.
That’s one of the things I thrive on. What I like about this job is the quick return. It can be a little too intense sometimes, and if you are really overwhelmed and you’ve taken on too much, it really, really can be… It’s like being a stockbroker. You are just wheeling and dealing and getting things done and organized all day and things fall apart, but that’s the thing I like about the whole live-ness of a fashion show. Something goes wrong backstage or something tears or a girl doesn’t show up—you have to fix it right that minute. You are really on your toes all the time. There is no time to rest. If it breaks, you fix it, it’s done, and you feel great.
You’re not afraid to say what’s on your mind. Case in point, your remark on Buzzfeed about Dior. (“Some of the biggest names who move fashion to the forefront, like Dior, get a D- on ethnic diversity. I feel the Dior cast is just so pointedly white that it feels deliberate.”) Has it ever gotten you in trouble?
I never say these things to get someone in trouble or to say anything bad. It was just something that after a while I was like, “Wow, this is really bothering me.” The treatment of underage girls bothers me. There are too many of them in the business and people aren’t taking care of them. Those things affect my job and they make my job not as fun. The nice thing about the old days is a girl had a 10–15 year career. Kate [Moss] and all those are 20 years down the road and they’re still working. It bothers me that people have to have this girl tomorrow and two weeks later they can’t stand her. These girls aren’t even allowed to develop into interesting girls because they start too young!
But people still love the models!
These girls have been so young and so anti-sexual that I think that is why we have seen the rise of the Victoria’s Secret model. Victoria’s Secret is where you used to go—like when whales come to a beach to die. You went there to end your career, cash your check, and call it a night. It was a stigma, you were officially done. Now, it’s the other way around. Now, every girl walks in the door and wants to be in Victoria’s Secret. I see why that is, it’s aspirational. Everyone in America knows who they are. That’s why I hate when magazine editors say models don’t sell covers. We have to find a way to make fashion, as a whole, interesting, including models, including celebrities. Marry them together rather than hoping boring Carey Mulligan is going to sell a cover.
Do you still like what you do?
I do. One of the things I love are the relationships. I love the relationships with the models most of all. When I was a boy I always wanted to be around beautiful women and glamour, not really knowing what that meant or how that would ever happen and from that first moment at Chanel in 1983, I knew this was where I was meant to be.