Who are the new faces? A question that burns in our minds before every season. The clothes, the brand, the image never really come to life until they’re worn. Casting director Rebecca Knox knows this all too well. Having cast for brands such as Bobby Abley and Katie Eary, she looks months ahead to scope out the right mix of talent for the runway.
Here she talks to us about how she got started, the changing face of the industry, and all the tough work and love that goes into it. Take the show she cast for Bobby Abley FW17, where each model from the diverse cast had their own choker with their name inscribed on it. If that’s not love, I don’t know what it is.
MARK BENJAMIN: Hi Rebecca, how are you?
REBECCA KNOX: Hi, what’s going on?
MB: I’m here in LaGuardia airport, waiting for a flight to Houston, Texas, where I’m from. It’s been a busy week, but not as busy as yours with [London] men’s fashion week, I’m sure.
RK: God, it’s been mental. I can’t even tell you how happy I am that it’s Friday.
MB: I saw some of your shows— I remember Bobby Abley FW17 distinctly. The casting was so strong, with faces such as Jhon Burjack.
RK: I love Bobby. This was our fourth season together. I know what he wants, and it’s the same team, so it’s always fun.
MB: Do you only do men’s?
RK: I do women’s, too. Predominantly, when I first started, I was working with
a lot of photographers and stylists who shot mainly boys.
MB: Where are you from? When did you first fall in love with fashion? Are you in love with fashion?
RK: I’m from Torquay in Devon, England. It’s a small seaside town. I first came to London to see a friend play a DJ gig. It was New Year’s Eve and I crashed with another friend and ended up not going home. That’s how
I made it to London 10 years ago. Then I started a full-time job as a receptionist at Storm models. That gave me a lot of good insight into the industry— you have contact with everyone, from clients to photographers, producers, and stylists.
MB: Yeah, you’re in the middle of it all.
RK: Yeah, you have the money clients, the editorial clients, the e-comm clients, and you meet a lot of people this way. It was a really good grounding. It’s also an intense and kind of hardcore environment, so it toughened me up a bit.
MB: How did you get into casting from there?
RK: I remember seeing clients come in—people such as ASOS. I always thought casting looked really fun and thought I would love to do that, but I never gave it much thought. I worked in and out of the fashion industry for a couple of years. I started doing some street scouting for a production company. They liked what I did, so they said, “You’re a good scout, why don’t you go to Premier?”
And so I ended up being one of their scouts for few years. In between I assisted a couple of casting directors and it kind of grew from there… I started to get my own work. I got to the point where I was too busy to scout and work, so it just kind of happened. It wasn’t really carefully planned. It sort of just fell into place, but it took me a long time to get to where I am. Like that initial move to London.
MB: Yeah, you just came to London to party. It’s like, “I didn’t sign up for this.”
RK: Yeah, no looking back. I do love it. I do love the industry, but sometimes I don’t. I think most people in fashion will say that. Major pitfalls. Sometimes the industry or people you come across can be quite harsh.
MB: Oh, I know.
RK: That’s the side of it I don’t really like, but the other side is the pace and the momentum—I enjoy that. In terms of fashion, I’m quite a simple person. I don’t go home and obsess about fashion and brands and hang out with fashion friends. Of course I’ve made some great friends in the industry, but I have normal friends with worthy jobs that help the world go round, which is nice. I can’t imagine having to come home and talk about fashion and models all the time.
MB: And to keep up with all the trends and changes.
RK: I know. It’s hard, isn’t it?
MB: Tell me more about your time as a scout. Where were you scouting? What were you doing? Did you discover anyone interesting?
RK: Yeah, funnily enough I now place kids with an agency in Japan—Bravo. Models from the U.K. market go and stay there for a while and work hard and make some money. I was chatting to a young lad, an Irish boy, about going to Tokyo and he said to me, “You scouted me at Benicassim festival near Barcelona years ago. Do you remember that?” I was like, “You’ve completely changed… your hair’s long,” and now hopefully he’ll go to Japan.
I used to go to music festivals in the summer. It sounds like a lot of fun, but actually it’s quite exhausting. Also to music gigs where all the cool young kids would go—wherever the band of the minute was playing. At one point it would have been One Direction—we followed their tour around the country.
I started to get my own work. I got to the point where I was too busy to scout and work, so it just kind of happened. It wasn’t really carefully planned. It sort of just fell into place, but it took me a long time to get to where I am.
MB: Do you have to take a pair of binoculars with you?
RK: You need them! It’s funny, you need them because people in the U.K. aren’t really that tall, so you just see the height in the crowd.
MB: Oh, they stick out.
RK: Yeah, and then for winter we’d go to shopping malls or anywhere really where there are young people. It was fun, but it’s not something I could do full time because it’s quite exhausting and sometimes you come home “empty handed.”
And you’re going up to people and sometimes their reactions can be quite strange, like, “Why are you talking to me?” They’re kind of thinking, “Oh, what do you want from me?”, as if you’re trying to scam them. In a way we do gain from making people into models, but ultimately the models are the biggest winners. It’s such a great opportunity for young people.
MB: More or less. But casting and scouting is really the glue that keeps it all together. What are some of the trends or changes you’ve seen since you started?
RK: It has opened up a lot more now in terms of people’s backgrounds and how they got into modeling. A lot of kids you meet now are artists and performers. The music industry crosses over into modeling as well. A while back, a lot of my perceptions of models were posh, privileged kids with pushy and “well-connected” parents.
These days, I love finding someone who is completely unaware of how amazing they are. That’s incredible for me. They suddenly become this person who has all these new experiences and opportunities, a whole new world opens up for them.
It can happen to anyone now. And there aren’t really any boundaries. The LGBT community is getting a representation and there are so many tiny and diverse agencies popping up all over the world. I guess each market will tap into each other a little bit, but they all have their own landscape going on. There’s no specific thing, like, “Oh, you must be this or that.” Even on the runway these days, like for Gosha, the kids are often quite small—not everyone has to be super-tall these days.
You can be a complete freak or a complete beauty. I love that. I guess imperfection is perfect. I also love a little bit of ugliness in someone. That’s really captivating to me. That’s a personal preference, but I guess it has become more of a dominant thing. A lot of women these days are starting to look more like the traditional sense of a woman, with shows such as Vetements, where the women felt quite strong. And the recent Céline show, it was all about these strong women. I like that.
MB: It’s been a back and forth between gender fluidity, but then you still have strong, sexy women at Saint Laurent led by Anthony Vaccarello. Somebody told me the other day that they styled Margiela’s show a while back and that a good portion of the models were street cast. That blew my mind. Do you think that it’s a trend or a long-term change?
RK: I guess it is a trend, but it seems to be staying. A lot of my clients have asked me to do it. It’s because of people like Margiela. They want it to be more relatable these days, [they want to] make it more real—not alienate people too much and to make it cool. The high-end brands want to make it less occasional.
It gives out a different feeling when you’ve got someone you might see on the street. I love that. I love that it’s not a show with just really big models. I think that feels a bit obvious and people are starting to realize that now. I think that’s a confidence thing, too, for the designer or stylist to show that they don’t have to just use big names. I’m totally into that. However, it’s hard work getting people to show up for a show.
MB: That’s amazing. Yeah, even producing editorials can be an effort. You just have to get a photographer, a stylist, and a talent in one place at the same time. Like, how hard can that be? But somehow it’s always a huge effort.
RK: I know.
MB: It’s the runaround in fashion.
RK: We live off the adrenaline half the time, don’t we?
Walking a show
MB: Tell me about the process. Such as when a brand approaches you and says, “I want you to work on a show.” How does that work? Do you see the clothes? How do you start to think about it?
RK: I do see the clothes. It’s a bit more about the overall aesthetic of the brand. Maybe it’s cultural references—what they’re trying to say, who they are trying to appeal to, how they’re reaching out, in what voice, and on what platforms? I’ll get my head around who they are and what they want to do. Then we may meet the stylist. Sometimes they might have something else to add.
For the Chalayan London Fashion Week Men’s show this season we were going to do something really real with that street-casting kind of thing, but when it came to the first day of casting, we saw the first boy and the feeling instantly changed the whole thing. And we had to head in a different direction, which turned out great.
You may have it in your head that, “Oh, we’re going to do this, this, and this,” but then we have this really beautiful boy and these beautiful clothes, so instead it’s, “Let’s just make it really gorgeous.” It can change quickly. You have all these plans and have it all organized. Then you go through your packs and start to option everyone, but it can completely change, which is why you don’t get any sleep!
MB: It’s a bit like a puzzle.
RK: Yeah. It’s like, “Damn, I just did all that work. But it’ll look good in the end.”
Celebrification of fashion
MB: I’m fascinated by how individualistic fashion tries to be with its branding. I used to be a buyer and labels would say all the time, “Oh, that’s not us, it’s not the DNA of the brand code,” or whatever. And yet every season, it emerges—a handful of models who end up opening every single show.
RK: It’s so true. You’ll see that one person do the rounds. People do think in terms of trends. People just get excited. It’s like anything creative. It’s hard not to be influenced by things all the time.
MB: Are there any new faces you were excited about for fall?
RK: I love this one boy I saw just before the shows—William Allen. He did Neil Barrett in Milan, J.W.Anderson in London and Loewe in Paris. He’s super- cute—really young and fresh. There’s something—you know when you can’t really put your finger on it? So many unique guys this season.
MB: What do you think about the whole celebrification of fashion? Kylie, Gigi, and Cameron Dallas?
RK: I don’t really like it.
MB: Grace Coddington said the same thing about wanting to see models on the cover of Vogue again.
RK: I feel like brands, art directors, creative directors, and stylists are just cashing
in on someone’s name because it makes them money. I think it’s boring. Don’t get me wrong— sure, some of them have a great affinity to be models, like Gigi. I think she’s great. But just the fact that these names are money… People dismiss fashion and say it’s not important, but it is.
We are all influenced by it. Fashion is supposed to be about creativity and expression. I think for it to be creative is really important and I don’t find celebrities are always a part of that, or necessarily fit in with that idea.
MB: I was speaking with someone the other day about how it’s good short term. Yeah, you’ll make some money, you’ll generate some buzz, but long term for your brand—because they work with everybody—it kind of becomes like, “So what?”
RK: Exactly. It becomes, “Oh, it’s her again.”
MB: It’s fascinating to me. When I think of Dior Homme, because of the way they’ve cast the idea of the male model over the years, I have an image of what that is, not just the clothes but what their aspiration is. If you just have Gigi and Kylie, you think, “Well what is my memory of this brand? I don’t know.”
RK: Exactly. Though I’m quite useless when it comes to celebrities anyways. My friends mention names and I’m like, “Who?” I’m not interested, really.
MB: I’m the same. I vaguely know of the big ones, but not really. It’s amazing because I have friends—even my mom—who will know about the most obscure actors just because they saw them on TV at some point.
RK: It’s no excuse. I’m sure there are a lot of people really into the celebrity thing, but I’ve never found it that fascinating.
MB: When you see new faces, do you think, “Oh, this person looks very J.W.Anderson, or Versace,” or whatever brand it may be?
RK: Yeah, that does happen. It can feel obvious sometimes. Sometimes the brand will use someone unexpected.
MB: Such as A$AP Rocky for Dior. I thought, “How awesome!”
RK: Yeah, me too. It’s really great when brands take it to another place and use someone more unexpected.
MB: The theme of this issue is the summer of unrest and, today, Donald Trump was inaugurated as the 45th president of the United States. There’s a lot of angst and rebellion out there that people want to express. Somebody said to me, “If you don’t rebel against your parents, you eventually become them.” What’s the most punk or rebellious thing you’ve ever done? Recently or maybe as a teen?
RK: I’m not that cool really. I did get thrown out of the Pony Club for smoking pot when I was about 14. Apart from that I’m a bit of a goody two-shoes. My mom was strict when I was growing up and she knows absolutely everyone, so I was always too terrified to step out of line.
MB: I feel like if you rebel when you’re young, you get it out of your system and you don’t have to deal with it later on.
RK: I feel like some people really like to party. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had a lot of fun and I enjoy life, but I’m at the point now where I’m just really chill—I love my sports and feeling good. I’m trying to have a healthy lifestyle. The women’s march is on tomorrow here in London. I want to go and see a bit or march a little while.
MB: Yeah, I missed Cher speaking in New York last night. I’m kind of bummed. I didn’t know she was going to speak.
RK: Oh, did she? Just her voice is amazing.
MB: Yeah, not even in auto-tune. I could fall asleep to it.
RK: I’d love to meet her. She’s quite amazing, isn’t she?
MB: Have you done any casting in New York? Do you have anything planned?
RK: Yeah, I’ve done bits and pieces for Open Lab magazine. I’ve worked with New York clients. I cast the Gillette Star Wars campaign recently. I did DKNY when they came to London for the first time for the menswear shows. I definitely want to work more in the States.
MB: What advice would you give to somebody wanting to become a model or to work in fashion?
RK: I would say to a model, “Be ready to work hard. Don’t go out the night before, and just pretend you’re loving every minute.” Because there can be guys and girls who are beautiful, but then you get feedback that they’re difficult to work with, which is a shame because that opportunity doesn’t necessarily come later in life.
And to anyone wanting to work in fashion, I’d say, “Be ready to assist, work hard, and don’t take everything so personally, because it does get quite tough.” It’s like you have to build a little shield around yourself. I always say to people, “Try to be nice.” Because a lot of people who work in fashion think they have to be sassy. Keep your feet on the ground.
This interview originally appeared in the print edition of RAIN magazine the spring of 2017. Interview by Mark Benjamin. Photography by Maud Maillard