Behind-The-Scenesters: Natalie Joos
Designers design. Photographers photograph. Models model. That much—in broad strokes, at least—is clear. But what about the artists, technicians, and industry insiders, often unpublicized and underappreciated, who help to get clothes and accessories made and shown? Call them Behind-the-Scenesters: people who shape our experience of fashion but never take a bow on the catwalk or strike a pose for the camera. Without them—from pattern-makers to production designers—the show wouldn’t go on. And in a new series, Style.com sits down with a few of these pros to find out, basically, what they do.
To the untrained eye, the models legging it down the catwalk at a fashion week show represent just another parade of pretty girls. But as casting director Natalie Joos knows, the appearance of a particular model on a particular runway is anything but arbitrary. For Joos, who has cast fashion week shows for clients such as Lacoste, Mark Fast, ADAM, and Yigal Azrouël, not to mention myriad lookbooks, ad campaigns, and magazine editorials, deciding which pretty face fits where is a lot like assembling a jigsaw puzzle in the dark. Here, Joos talks to Style.com about putting the casting pieces together.
So, Natalie: In one sentence, what do you do?
I’m a casting director. Which means, really, that I’m the link between the model and the client. Photographers, stylists, designers, anyone who needs a model, I connect them. Sometimes that means I’m asked to find a blue-eyed blonde for a particular shoot, and then I call around to the agencies to see who’s available on that day for that rate and for that job; sometimes it’s much more involved, like putting together a fashion show. In that case, you’re really searching for the girls who fit the vision of the designer. And figuring out what exactly that vision is.
Speaking as an outsider, casting a fashion show seems kind of like shooting fish in a barrel. I mean, there are plenty of tall, skinny, pretty girls—or boys—floating around. Where’s the art in what you do?
First of all, you need a good eye. You have to be able to spot the good models. There are bad ones, you know. The body, the walk, the attitude—you’re looking at all of that. And for a show especially, you’re trying to tell a coherent story. You want the whole group of girls to have the same feel. Casting ADAM is very different from casting Yigal, you know? It’s a different girl. Yigal’s girl, she’s tough, she struts. The ADAM girl is a bit softer. You have to translate the vibe of the clothes through the girls wearing them. It’s not just, oh, let’s find the prettiest ones. There’s a whole process of interpretation.
If some super big-time model wanted to walk in a show you felt she was totally wrong for, would you cast her?
Hmm. I mean, ultimately, you’re trying to communicate the designer’s vision, and you don’t want one girl, no matter how famous, to interfere with that. But at the same time, I’m not going to tell you that reputation doesn’t matter. You want to see new faces, of course, but the trendy girls are trendy for a reason—they’re good at what they do, and they have a look that’s of-the-moment. You don’t want to use girls no one else is using.
As you say, your brief is to communicate a designer’s vision. But do you have a bias? Are there certain types of models you prefer to cast?
I like beautiful girls. That’s my taste, and yeah, if you work with me, I bring my own aesthetic to the table. I like a girl who you look at and say, wow…where did you come from? Who made you? I like a model to be a model. Taller, more beautiful, a little unreal. I’m not particularly into that whole ugly-duckling, she’s-so-awkward-she’s-beautiful thing.
And yet—as you say—there are trends.
Yeah, absolutely. When I first started in the business, it was that heroin-chic moment. All those emaciated girls. Which followed the supermodel moment, and was followed by the Brazilians. Boobs, beautiful skin, all that hair. Then we went back to the Belgians, the quirky girls. It comes in waves, waves of extremes. We’re back to beautiful right now. If you want to sum it up in one person, it’s the Lara Stone moment. Sexy. I think it has something to do with the economy. Awkward doesn’t sell. Sex does.
What’s the next wave going to be, in your opinion?
Well, I find I’m getting a lot of requests for real people. I think it’s part of a bigger trend, with bloggers and reality TV. Clients are picking up on the idea that a normal, cool girl can be way more interesting and way more relatable than some, you know, goddess. They want to see human, they want to see imperfection.
Speaking of…you cast for Mark Fast, who led the way in using plus-size models in shows. More and more designers and editors are picking up on that. Do you feel like that’s a fad, or an acknowledgment that a lot of the customers worldwide are bigger, or what?
Well, first of all, let me say that I honestly, sincerely believe in diversity on the runway. All kinds of diversity—color, size, what have you. I’d like to say that these bigger girls are going to be around in a few seasons, but I’m not sure that’s true. The more extreme the trend, the more quickly it passes. That’s been my experience, anyway.
Would you advocate for the plus-size girls sticking around?
Honestly, there’s only so much I can do. I’m not going to name any names, but it’s like, casting different ethnicities, I’ve had clients who have worried that the cast I propose is too diverse, they worry about it looking contrived. I’ve suggested, they’ve refused.
In the case of a shoot, what do you do when you can’t find the kind of girl you’re looking for, or if you can’t get the girl that you want?
That happens all the time. Sometimes, if it’s about one girl you were hoping to cast and she’s not available, then you look around the agencies for someone similar. In other cases, I might go back to the client and suggest another direction. I’ve done shoots where we started out looking for a blue-eyed blonde and wound up with a black girl instead.
How did you get into casting?
I was Craig McDean’s studio manager for six years, and I helped out with casting and I saw all the girls come through. Craig told me I should do casting full-time; he said I had a knack for it.
Is there one favorite project you’ve worked on?
Working on Rocawear is always a blast. The first few campaigns I did with them, I mean—top girls, top actors, tons of extras, travel to amazing locations. Those were the days. Also, the July issue of V—the “sexy body” issue—I was the curating casting director, and that was really great, having discretion over the whole book.
What’s the weirdest part of your job? I’m sort of imagining that doing street casting must be a little odd. I mean, walking up to total strangers and telling them they’re attractive…
It’s not weird at all. I’m always looking at people, checking them out. And every so often you see someone with something special going on, and you just walk up to them, give them a card, and say, you’ve got a great look, I’m a casting director, can you come see me so I can take snapshots? Everyone says yes. And I do mean everyone. People in New York City are just walking around waiting to be discovered. When I show up, sometimes people are a little surprised, but mostly it’s like, oh, well, finally.