How she does it: Lucy Rogers, freelance casting assistant

After two months of fashion shows, Lucy Rogers’ favourite thing to do when she arrives home is order a curry. Specifically a murg al jawab with pilau rice, saag paneer, four poppadoms and all the chutneys. Having known Lucy for the past eighteen years, I realise this is an almost religious experience, one that can go on for several days, if leftovers allow. 

“By the time you get back from eight weeks of travelling between cities for shows, you are completely exhausted,” she tells me while sitting on her sunny terrace in Dalston during the UK’s fourth week of isolation. “The first thing I do is get into bed. Then when I wake up the next morning I’ll order breakfast from The Acoustic and book a massage.”

While those of us outside the glittering veneer of fashion might think only of the clothes, hairstyles or makeup looks replicated in the elusive pages of magazines, Rogers’ role in the fashion world centres around the models on which those other elements (literally) hang. Currently a freelance assistant to Jess Hallett, independent casting director and previous head booker at Storm Models, the pair secure models for the creme de la creme of fashion houses including Alexander McQueen, Maison Margiela, Caroline Herrera and Gabriela Hearst. 

Ning Jinyi, Maison Margiela Spring couture 2020 in Paris

Twice a year, Rogers accompanies Hallett, who has over 20 years of experience in the casting world, to shows in London, Paris, New York and Copenhagen. Their job is to fulfil the vision of designers and their stylists by providing fresh faces and figures to model their creations. The work sounds gruelling and frenetic but Rogers assures me the hectic weeks leading up to a show are always worth it. 

“Last June for Margiela, I remember running around backstage with my headset mic, positioning the models in this particularly complex order and the music was playing and the adrenaline was pumping. It’s exhilarating being part of that.” 

There are other golden edges to her job too. Sightings of iconic photographers such as Don McCullin snoozing in an armchair, or John Galliano holding court in his candle lit Parisian studio are not uncommon as is receiving flowers from Sarah Burton, the McQueen designer who created Kate Middleton’s wedding dress, to say thank you for a particularly successful show. 

She loves the sea and has just bought a camper van so she can travel around between projects, sleeping wherever the adventure takes her. If I didn’t already know her, I would do my utmost to hate her. 

If that weren’t envy inducing enough, on top of operating in this tinselled world, Rogers is a card carrying member of the Cool Girl club, infinitely gorgeous, witty, well read and a marvellous cook (when she’s not ordering her beloved curries). She loves the sea and has just bought a camper van so she can travel around between projects, sleeping wherever the adventure takes her. If I didn’t already know her, I would do my utmost to hate her. 

“There are totally elements of this job that are glamorous,” Rogers explains when I question her on the shimmering perception of fashion week. “It’s great to have a chauffeur allocated to you and I love it when the production team sends me my schedule for the week ahead of time with everything organised.” Just as my eyes begin to roll, she stops me, “The problem is you start the week with the best intentions, but you always end it looking a complete state because you’ve stayed up until 3am every night for fittings.” A uniform of white shirt, jeans and Doc Marten boots keeps her looking professional, but her hair, she says, is another story.

Jill Kortleve, Alexander McQueen ready to wear Spring 2020

Working in intense sporadic bursts is how Rogers likes it best. She says going freelance, a decision she made almost two years ago after working for artist Chris Levine, famous for his portrait of the Queen with her eyes closed, was the right one because it allows her to work on different projects. “I prefer to move around than be in the same place all the time,” she says. 

If Rogers was looking for more variety in her career, casting has certainly offered her that. “I think the biggest misconception is to be a model, all you need to be is skinny and beautiful,” she muses. “When the truth is there is so much more to it. There is a level of creativity to casting I had no idea about.”

She tells me about a Renaissance painting the team at Margiela provided as inspiration for a show last year. Another year, the house asked for a model to be flown in from Berlin because he had the perfect 80s raver look. “In fact,” Lucy tells me, “He looked exactly like he had spent the past four nights in Berghain. He probably had, actually.”  

When I ask Rogers about her personal preference when it comes to the look of models she says, “I like girls that look like boys and boys that look like girls.” When I press her for more detail she falters. “It’s difficult because you get to know them and a lot of them are so young and sweet it’s difficult to separate their personalities from their appearances.” She cites a young man from the Ivory Coast called Cherif as someone she developed a soft spot for. “He is so beautiful, just a lovely, lovely person.” 

Another preference Rogers mentions is the inclusion of different body types, a trend which still hasn’t fully taken off in mainstream fashion. In an industry which has been so frequently criticised for projecting images of underaged or frankly emaciated women, Rogers says it is a breath of fresh air to see designers such as McQueen use ‘plus size’ models regularly. “It makes the clothing much more marketable,” she explains. “I like to see high fashion pieces on different types of figures, not just on a size 6.”

The topic of celebrity models comes up. Some houses love them, putting options on them year-after-year while others feel they dilute the creative vision of the show. I wonder how casting marries the constant hunger for fresh, young faces in a world where how many followers a model has matters. Will someone like Kaia Gerber have longevity?

Sarah Burton once blacklisted a model who had been rude to one of her dressers from future McQueen shows

“Yes definitely. The thing with Kaia is she is fundamentally an excellent model. She’s tall, has very good proportions and is always professional. She comes to the fittings on time and won’t complain. Those things matter, especially when you’re trying to organise 40 models per show.” Lucy reiterates this theory by telling me Sarah Burton once blacklisted a model who had been rude to one of her dressers from future McQueen shows. Just another complexity to navigate.

Kaia Gerber, Alexander McQueen ready to wear Spring 2020

Not only does Rogers have to source models who fit the look of the show while having the genetic qualities of a giraffe, she then needs to liaise with agents, stylists, producers and the models themselves to ensure they are where they need to be throughout the week. In practice this means thousands of emails, late notice change of plans, running around trying to find models who have got lost and hiding from stroppy hairdressers.

“One year at McQueen a model turned up with a chaperone and when I asked how old she was she said 17. As a member of the Kerring Group, that designer categorically doesn’t use models under 18 but her agent had obviously tried to slip her through. We had to replace her with three hours to go before the show,” Rogers recalls. 

The issue of how models have been treated in the past and what image they project to society is still a relevant one. But Rogers believes it is improving. “I think I’m lucky because I have come into this at a time when models are treated much better than they ever have. They’re not sleeping on the floor between castings anymore. Sure, people can still be rude, but I think there is much more respect now.” With fees of £10,000 per show going for some of the season’s popular models, this growing respect clearly translates financially. 

When I first met Rogers at school, I would never have suspected the shy 11-year-old with braces and a tom boy approach to clothing would go on to work for some of fashion’s biggest names. Having said that, in reality her pragmatism and grit make her a perfect fit. “I don’t think I could do this forever,” she tells me as we wind up our conversation. “Maybe film or independent editorial casting could be interesting to try.” I suspect as long as there’s a curry at the end of it, whatever she does next will be a success.

Lauren Saving

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