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Work Life: Shelley Durkan, Casting Agent

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Shelley Durkan, founder of Shelley Durkan Casting, has sourced models for Vivienne Westwood, Versace, Louis Vuitton and Acne. She lives in Hackney, East London

My iPad is always within arm’s reach of my bed, and it’s the very first thing I think about when I wake up at 7am. As a casting director, I am constantly waiting for confirmation that an in-demand model is available for a job or for feedback from clients in America about options on models we have sent over for catwalk shows or advertising campaigns.

Once I’ve checked my emails, I’ll take a quick shower, jump in the car and head straight to my gym in Old Street for a Bikram yoga class. Once I’ve had a decent workout, I’ll shower again and get dressed – usually in Louboutin Love Me heels paired with Uniqlo jeans and a James Perse T-shirt. I also have a tweed-print Céline coat that I rely on constantly; it gives any outfit some oomph.

After picking up some fruit, yoghurt and coffee, I’ll arrive at the offices in Shoreditch at about 10am. The first thing I do is settle into my desk and start making checklists. I’m in charge of liaising between high profile clients (from major sports brands such as Adidas and Lacoste to high-end fashion clients such as Louis Vuitton) and model agencies to find the right ‘faces’ for their advertising campaigns, catwalk shows or editorial pages. So, the morning will be spent returning emails, adding images of models to our digital system or attending castings.

We work across a number of different sectors from beauty to ‘real people’, and they each have a different casting procedure. For real people, the client – a sports brand such as Stella McCartney for Adidas or a company like Coca-Cola – can give us any kind of brief from ‘tall girls with tattoos’ to ‘men with handlebar moustaches’, so we will actually go out onto the streets and scout for people. I’m on a never-ending search for new talent and will even scour the Facebook pages of friends of friends.

During London Fashion Week, our days will be filled with catwalk castings. We can see hundreds of girls a day and it’s crucial to see them in the flesh, especially nowadays because there’s endless airbrushing in photographs. But it’s one of my favourite parts of the job. I started off 10 years ago working in the women’s division at Select Model Agency. I just had a knack for faces and knowing who would work for which brand. So when I started my own agency six years ago, I had plenty of experience.

For LFW castings, we’ll set up in a designer’s studio, get in as many girls as we can, look at their books and watch them walk. Some clients are looking for a specific body type so their clothes hang in a certain way, or some may be looking for red-haired models. But the most common thing we get asked for is confidence. The client needs to know things will run smoothly, so they want experienced girls who can take direction.

It’s hard to describe how you know when a model has it, but you just do. It’s a gut instinct like I experienced when I booked Lily Donaldson for her first shoot with The Face magazine or when I discovered [male model] Sean O’Pry; it’s a real buzz.

Because Fashion Week is such a rush – I’ll stay with the designer seeing girls, doing fittings and deciding on the line-up – it’s often easy to forget lunch. But if I have time, I’ll grab some sashimi from Itsu. The afternoon is, again, a blur of castings, meetings and fittings; we will quite literally be running from client to client trying to get everything done. But it’s worth it. There’s a real sense of pride when a girl you’ve chosen goes on to do exclusives for the Milan or Paris shows. We’re so busy working, we don’t even get to see the London shows. But this year I know everyone will be talking about new models Mijo – a very striking androgynous model – and Dutch model Nouk Torsing.

During Fashion Week, I can often be working through the night, but normally I try to finish by 7pm and will head out for drinks or dinner with friends at the Wolseley or Hawksmoor in Covent Garden. I’m not great at getting to bed early but, thankfully, my busy day will usually have worn me out and after checking my emails, I’ll eventually drift off at about 2am.

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