Balenciaga Denounces Abusive Treatment of Models and Racist Policies By Casting Directors

The last week of ‘fashion month’ has not gone off without a hitch. Rumours of model mistreatment at a Balenciaga casting call have been swirling and last night James Scully took to Instagram to sound the alarm. Under fire for abuse and racism, Balenciaga have been forced to issue a public apology.

New York Times Illustration. Photo credit:Valerio Mezzanotti for The New York Times; Gonzalo Fuentes/Reuters
New York Times Illustration. Photo credit:Valerio Mezzanotti for The New York Times; Gonzalo Fuentes/Reuters


As a long time member of the fashion world and someone who often sees behind the glossy, picture perfect scenes, casting director James Scully has vowed to expose and call-out abusive behaviour and practices in the industry. This is a man who once stood on stage and proclaimed that the fashion industry is more sadistic and much meaner than people could possibly imagine. It took only a single day of Milan Fashion Week for Scully to step into action.

Taking to Instagram, Scully posted an image of a quote by novelist Anne Lamott: “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should’ve behaved better.” While a powerful quote in its own right, it is the accompanying text that set the fashion industry astir. In his caption, Scully takes aim at the “usual suspects” who are up to “same tricks” and spills the details of one frankly horrifying story in which over 150 models were forced to wait for three hours in the dark during a casting call for Balenciaga leaving them “traumatised”. Equally terrible was the apparent mandate from Lanvin stating that they did not want to receive any women of color candidates.

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 & Ramy (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

A post shared by james scully (@jamespscully) on

Scully also isn’t shy about naming names. Referring to them as “serial abusers”, Scully drags casting directors Maida Gregori Boina and Rami Fernandes over the hot coals for their unfortunate history of racist policies when casting. Four years ago, the pair came under heavy fire for an all-white line up at Dior. This also isn’t the first time Balenciaga have been criticised as its creative director Demna Gvasalia has also come under fire for using an exclusively white cast in his first showing for the house but course corrected in time to send a diverse group of models down the runway last fall.

In addition to the controversial casting requirements, Scully also highlights the “same tricks”, namely, bullying, discrimination, the “sneaking in” of underage (15 years old) girls and the general inhumane treatment of models. As a result of this treatment, Scully reports that most of the girls have asked for their options to be canceled for Balenciaga as well as for the other fashion houses the employ Gregori Boina and Fernandes, including Hermés and Elie Saab.

Balenciaga Runway Show in Paris. Photo credit: Giannoni/WWD/REX/Shutterstock
Balenciaga Runway Show in Paris. Photo credit: Giannoni/WWD/REX/Shutterstock


In response, Balenciaga has gone into full damage control and issued a statement saying that they have discontinued their relationship the casting agents and apologised to the agencies of the models. The full statement reads as follows: “On Sunday, February 26th Balenciaga took notice of issues with the model castings carried out on that day. The House reacted immediately, making radical changes to the casting process, including discontinuing the relationship with the current casting agency. Additionally, Balenciaga sent a written apology to the agencies of the models who were affected by this specific situation, asking them to share it with them. Balenciaga condemns this incident and will continue to be deeply committed to ensure the most respectful working conditions for the models.”

This news is especially disappointing coming off the back of incredibly diverse and encouraging fashion weeks in New York, London and Milan. While we hope that these actions are limited to these individual casting agents and does not reflect the attitudes of the designers and fashion houses as a whole, it is a timely reminder of how far the fashion industry has yet to go in the push for equality. Now it is up to the fashion industry to step up and continue to take steps to eradicate these policies.