Fashion's Most Inclusive Casting Director on the Faces to Watch This FW Season
Hypebae speaks to Emma Matell, known for her casting work for Sinead O’Dwyer and Vivienne Westwood.
Casting director Emma Matell is on a mission to change the way the fashion industry practises inclusivity. Known for her game-changing work with pioneering designers like Vivienne Westwood and Sinead O’Dwyer, Matell set up her own casting agency in 2022 and has since gone on to become one of fashion’s most inclusive names, one that continues to encourage and empower people from all walks of life.
In terms of why more brands and designers aren’t following her lead, Matell tells us: “The idea of inaccessibility as luxury is peak capitalism and the problem also comes from systemic racism, maintaining old school western ideals of beauty.” She adds, “On a practical level, taking care of a more diverse group of people is more work and money, when your systems are not tailored to do so. Creating multiple sample sizes is also way more time-consuming and understanding people’s pronouns and accessibility requirements can be a ‘scary’ thing to engage with [for them].”
For her, the process of casting is all about finding the people who “historically have never been a part of the ‘luxury’ narrative,” and bringing them to the forefront — something she’s been able to do for multiple designers, season after season. In terms of who to watch this season, she cites GANNI girl Monet Laurent and Skye Standley as just a few of the faces to keep an eye on. Scroll down to find out more.
Tell us a bit about how you got into casting. What was that journey like?
I started scouting for a local agency in my hometown Copenhagen when I was 14 years old after a week-long school internship. From there on, I knew I wanted to do something in that world and I began bringing friends and strangers into the agency and spent all my free time doing my own little photoshoots. I stopped school shortly after and started a ‘hobby-sized’ street scouting company in Copenhagen, focusing on finding fresh faces that felt different from what was already there. I definitely wanted to do things on a bigger scale, so I moved to London a few years later, where I got the chance to be an assistant booker at IMG MODELS — being a model agent was never my calling, so that was followed by assisting an established casting director for a couple of years before establishing Emma Matell Casting in early 2022.
Since the start of your career, you’ve become known as one of fashion’s most inclusive casting directors — what’s your take on that?
My personal life, being queer and being in queer spaces, allowed me — from the second I arrived in London — to connect with creatives who are passionate about creating a more inclusive world. I’ve been really lucky to get to work with people who have inspired, allowed and pushed me to do the kind of casting I am doing, such as Sinead O’Dwyer or photographer Sharna Osborne.
The reason I do my job is to bring forward the people who’ve historically never been part of the “luxury” narrative and as much as those issues are so much bigger and more complex than what can be solved with a runway appearance, the visibility does matter in the broader discourse. To become a mainstream talking point as well as making people feel seen. Opposite to what many people believe, it’s usually the stylists or brands who have the last word when it comes to selecting the casting, and so I guess working inclusively as a CD comes more down to the casting environments I create and the people I feel inspired to put forward.
Previously, you’ve worked with the likes of Sinead O’Dwyer and Vivienne Westwood, what can you tell us about your creative process and how that differs per designer?
My process happens in close collaboration with the stylists & creative teams that I work with. With every brand I think there’s an opportunity to revise how the casting is done, but I also try to keep a more fluid process as I learn from the people around me. Working with a brand like Sinead O’Dwyer, we’ve had to flip the script and cast models in advance, making clothes that fit the models, rather than try to fit models into existing samples. It gives an opportunity for us to have anyone we like be part of the shows and campaigns.
With bigger brands, it takes more time to rewrite the processes and get backing to make those changes internally, so here the process is very much led by the framework I am given and I try to find creative ways of having a diverse cast, within whatever parameters I have. A lot of my personal creative process comes down to the street casting and editing groups of people before I present them to the client. Trying to give a clear direction whilst still being able to offer a super wide selection of people is not always an easy process. However, finding wider ideas of what it means for a group to feel cohesive despite all our differences, is what makes it really interesting!
What are you looking for when street casting?
Love at first sight!
Why don’t more brands do it?
There are so many reasons why fashion chooses to keep exclusive standards and environments. The idea of inaccessibility as luxury is peak capitalism and the problem also comes from systemic racism, maintaining old school western ideals of beauty. On a practical level, taking care of a more diverse group of people is more work and money, when your systems are not tailored to do so. Creating multiple sample sizes is also way more time-consuming and understanding people’s pronouns and accessibility requirements can be a ‘scary’ thing to engage with [for them], as with anything that comes with the chance of making mistakes. I also don’t think enough agencies make an effort to sign diverse models, despite there being suitable candidates everywhere around us.
Runway shows have long been notorious for their prohibitive nature in regards to including different body types, skin colours and abilities — how does your work within casting aim to change that?
I think my most important job is making sure I have amazing candidates from all walks of life, that will make the teams & clients want to extend what is viable for them. A lot of projects I work on end up with a cast that isn’t representative of what I personally stand for, but as long as I’ve made an effort to show the client people and ideas they wouldn’t have otherwise thought of — and advised on how to include those people — then I am happy with my work, whatever the outcome.
Finally, ahead of the fashion month season, who are some faces that you think the industry should be keeping an eye on? Any ‘ones to watch’?