Casting director turns on label in fashion mistreatment row

Fiachra GIBBONS
French label Balenciaga said it was making "radical changes to the casting process" after scores of models were forced to wait in a cramped stairway for hours at Paris Fashion Week

The casting director at the centre of a furore over the mistreatment of models at Paris fashion week hit back Friday, blaming French label Balenciaga for scores of women being forced to wait in a cramped stairway for hours.

Maida Gregori Boina -- a major backstage figure on the Paris fashion scene -- denied accusations that she locked at least 150 women in the stairway in the dark while she left to eat.

She described the allegations against her and her associate Rami Fernandes as "inaccurate and libellous".

The pair were sacked by Balenciaga hours after an Instagram post by rival US casting director James Scully denounced them as "serial abusers", claiming their treatment of the models was "sadistic and cruel".

The furore has highlighted how vulnerable even relatively top level models can be at "cattle call" castings for the elite catwalk shows in Paris, New York and Milan.

Boina denied that she had turned off the lights on the waiting models, blaming an electricity cut late on Sunday at Balenciaga's Paris headquarters.

"The models did not wait for three hours in the dark, not even one hour," she wrote in an email to the Business of Fashion website.

"We ate our lunch in the casting facility and we did not lock the models in the stairwell and turn out the lights. That would be completely inhumane.

- 'Tip of the iceberg' -

"Throughout the entire process, we provided the most comfortable accommodations allowable based on the facilities provided," she added.

And Boina accused Scully of "misrepresented the facts for personal career gain".

Scully responded by ramping up his allegations against Boina and Rami, and insisting that the Balenciaga incident on Sunday was only the tip of the iceberg in a modelling industry rife with abuse.

Several models told AFP that they were forced to wait in a hot and airless stairway for between two and three-and-a-half hours with no access to a toilet.

They also claimed the door had been closed on them and the lights turned off.

Balenciaga, one of the most influential brands on the catwalk at the moment, said it was making "radical changes to the casting process" after the incident.

"Balenciaga condemns this incident and will continue to be deeply committed to ensure the most respectful working conditions for the models," it added in a statement.

A spokesman declined to respond to Boina's claim that the fault lay with the brand.

Despite the code of silence that permeates the fashion business, several leading models took to social media to condemn the way they are their colleagues are treated at castings.

Synam, the French model agency union, also told AFP that it been warnings for years about the "deteriorating situation".

"Things have to change. Sometimes we let things go too far before we open our eyes to what is going on," its president, Isabelle Saint-Felix, said.