PARIS — In her first public statement since a controversy broke out over the treatment of models at Paris Fashion Week, casting director Maida Gregori Boina — one of the two people named in an Instagram post by fellow casting agent James Scully — has responded to the accusations against her.
In an exclusive statement to WWD on Thursday, Boina commended Scully for “raising awareness of the issues of ethnic diversity and the humane treatment of runway models,” but accused him of intentionally misrepresenting the facts surrounding a casting call for Balenciaga on Sunday “for personal career gain.”
“As a woman of color, I am a major advocate for ethnic diversity in the industry,” Boina said. “I care deeply about and am committed to the well-being of models. We do, however, condemn James for posting inaccurate and libelous remarks regarding Sunday’s casting for Balenciaga.”
Scully, an auto-proclaimed advocate for models’ rights, unleashed a firestorm on Tuesday after posting a lengthy statement on Instagram accusing “Madia & Ramy (serial abusers)” of leaving 150 models waiting in a stairwell in the dark for several hours. He was referring to Boina and her partner, Rami Fernandes.
Balenciaga swiftly cut ties with the pair, saying it had sent a written apology to the agencies of the models who were affected. “Balenciaga condemns this incident and will continue to be deeply committed to ensure the most respectful working conditions for the models,” the brand said in a statement.
Scully’s post also accused several houses of trying to “sneak in” underage models, and specifically accused Lanvin of a mandate “that they do not want to be presented with women of color.” He said models asked to have their options for Balenciaga canceled and also refused to work for Hermès and Elie Saab.
In her statement, Boina said she wanted to “stop the spread of rumors and set the record straight.” She noted that decisions regarding the casting of each show were made on the basis of the mood, theme and direction set by each designer, stylist and fashion house.
“The pre-casting for Balenciaga took place on the mezzanine level of its Paris headquarters. Balenciaga provided us with the casting facility and its senior staff was present and actively involved at all times,” said the casting director, who is represented by Creative Exchange Agency.
“The casting process for a fashion show of this scale requires a considerable amount of time to meet, photograph and assess each model and new face for consideration. Over a period of 10 hours, we considered approximately 150 models to fill 57 slots, seeing eight models at a time to expedite the process.
“Because the reception area was unavailable, the staircase entrance into the mezzanine was provided to us for the models. Unfortunately, the building’s electricity went out for a period of time late Sunday evening, and the maintenance staff was unable to resolve the issue. We then relocated the models to the reception area to continue the casting.
“To directly address these accusations, the models did not wait for three hours in the dark. We personally ate our lunch in the casting facility and — without question — we did not lock the models in the stairwell unattended and turn out the lights. That would be completely inhumane.
“Throughout the entire process, we provided the most comfortable accommodations allowable based on the facilities provided. We sincerely apologize for any waiting period the models may have endured and continued the casting on Monday and a portion of Tuesday without issue,” she said.
Boina added that she did not blame Balenciaga for the issues that plagued the casting process and applauded the French fashion house, which is owned by Kering, for acting rapidly to issue a statement to the press.
“At the same time, we are saddened to be released from the casting without a discussion of what actually took place. We are also very concerned that James, as a casting director himself, has intentionally misrepresented the facts for personal career gain without substantiating the story,” she said.
Earlier this week, Lanvin spokeswoman Sophie Boilley said the accusations against the house were “completely false and baseless.” Its fall runway show on Wednesday featured an ethnically diverse cast.
Contacted on Wednesday, Elie Saab declined to say whether the brand would take action or if it was investigating the claims. “Elie Saab takes the health, well-being and working conditions of models seriously. Elie Saab is and has always been a brand that respects and supports women,” it said in a statement.
Hermès declined to comment on the allegations.
Antoine Arnault, son of luxury titan Bernard Arnault, chimed into the controversy on Tuesday, posting a message on Scully’s Instagram account: “If you hear of anything like this happening at our houses, please contact me directly.” Arnault is chief executive officer of Berluti and chairman of Loro Piana.
Others posting messages of support for Scully’s post included Joan Smalls, Kate Young, Helena Christensen, Carolyn Murphy, Julia Stegner, Alana Zimmer, Andrea Lieberman, Hilary Rhoda, George Cortina, Marion Hume and Robert Burke.
Boina and Fernandes have been criticized in the past for the lack of diversity on the shows they cast for brands including Dior, Jil Sander and Calvin Klein. Scully has previously targeted the duo, saying the cast of Dior’s fall 2013 show was “just so pointedly white that it feels deliberate.”
Peter Damgaard, founder of the 2pm modeling agency in Copenhagen, is another critic — although he added that such behavior was widespread.
“This has been going on for a long time, but no one says anything because the power is in their hands to make or break a girl. When agents try to set conditions, we’ve been met with the attitude of, ‘You play the game or you don’t, that’s how it is,’” he said.
While Boina did not admit to any personal shortcomings, she agreed that the fashion industry needed to address deep-rooted issues.
“There is no question that there continues to be social and racial inequality in the industry. While it is extremely important to raise awareness, it is also necessary to research the source and details of any story to ensure we elevate our cause and make progress,” she said.
“I have witnessed a dramatically improved landscape for model diversity over my 20 years casting for major fashion houses in New York, Paris and Milan, though without question, it is imperative that we continue to raise awareness for equality and fair treatment for all models.
“James’ approach to sensationalize the facts is certainly self-serving and may provide short-term gain, but we feel that a concerted effort between fellow casting directors, model agents and the brands with which we all collaborate to recognize the issues and ensure respectful working conditions, will provide a more positive and long-lasting result,” Boina concluded.