Casting director, Preston Chaunsumlit's name may not ring a bell for you, but chances are you've seen him or his work by now. After moving to NYC to study film, Chaunsumlit more or less stumbled into casting after setting up a photographer with a model he knew. Since then, in addition to casting for the likes of DIS Magazine, Metal, Numero, and Details magazines, among others, Chaunsumlit is the star of Model Files, a mockumentary web series about his life as a model casting director. We caught up with the man about SoSo to talk about the lack of diversity in the modeling industry, taking selfies with tweens, #CHINA$$, and more ...
The Fashion Law–Tell me a little bit about yourself and your brand, since business, now is much about branding.
Preston Chaunsumlit–I do model casting. I play myself in a reality webseries about fashion called Model Files. In terms of branding, Model Files started out as a series of promotional video shorts for the launch of VFiles, the internet’s first online social networking site dedicated to fashion. By introducing characters, like myself, through original online content, VFiles was able to create an online following of participating users.
I think there was an audience of people online who loved fashion, but didn’t live in a major city, work in the industry, or could care less about the same fashion personas, all in the same magazines. All. The. Time. It’s a culture that is online, probably on their smartphone, on tumblr and twitter, etc. I think what makes what I do different is the point of view and access. We welcome it. Model Files/VFiles is as much about fashion as it is about Internet culture.
The Fashion Law–A lot of people know you from Model Files. How did that project come about? It has been received quite well. Do you feel like a celeb?
Preston Chaunsumlit–The editorial team at VFiles asked if I could come in and visit their new office in SoSo. They are the same editors who founded DISmagazine.com, who I worked with previously and love. I had no idea what they had in mind when I stopped by, but it seemed experimental enough. They wanted to shadow me for NYFW castings, and introduce a realistic portrayal of an industry that quite often times, presents itself in the worst ways.
I hope the show has been received well! I am not sure how well fashion has received it, but like I said before ... it’s experimental enough. I do not feel like celebrity, but some things have changed. People are nicer to me? A lot of tweens ask if they can take selfies with me now.
The Fashion Law–What are some of your observations of the modeling industry? What do you look for, in general, when you’re casting?
Preston Chaunsumlit–As with other industries, things have gotten so much faster, saturated, and transparent because of the internet/technology, globalisation, celebrity culture, terrorism, and economic distress. This was all happening when I got into casting. It was a strange time and definitely affected the type of models that would be in demand: pale, pubescent, robotic drones from Eastern Europe. It took me awhile to understand it. As cliche as it sounds, I look for professionalism and personality. Every model is different (though they are roughly the same size). I like these differences.
The Fashion Law–There has been an increase in awareness about the downsides of the modeling industry as of late. Do you think conditions for models are getting better?
Preston Chaunsumlit–I hope conditions are getting better. There has been a lot of attention brought to this topic, but as we all know, attention is pointless unless you get results. I love what the Model Alliance is doing. Kudos to them for getting that child model bill passed, making it harder to book underaged models. I think once we start hiring adults, things will get better with time. It is an industry that objectifies and commodifies bodies, but it takes a creepy turn when you have no choice but to exploit a child’s body and her labor because it is “standard.”
The Fashion Law–I know you have some strong thoughts on diversity in the modeling industry. Can you tell me a bit about that?
Preston Chaunsumlit–My problem with the lack of diversity in casting is WHY NO ONE has been able to explain it. Designers blame the agents. Agents blame the clients. Ugh, and the “postracial” argument. Bullshit.
We live in a racialized world. We work in a market whose consumer dollars are coming from a racialized consumer. It is about bottom lines and money. It is simply safer to book a white girl, because in the West, white is considered standard and even “aspirational.” Anything off from that carries an otherness or a “distraction.” I think fashion is not responsible for this, but is a product of it. Fashion might be encouraging it, but it is something deeper and more ingrained in our society.
I hate to say it, but people do not find someone that reminds them of their maid/nanny/gardener/miscellaneous hired help/colonised person/criminal/ savage/slave/etc. (in their minds, a person of color) as aspirational. This is why it is important to have diversity in model casting. Images that aren’t as myopic as the idiots we are trying to sell to. The reasons I mentioned previously about the Eastern European drones goes hand in hand with the lack of racial diversity, the exploitation of underaged models, and questionable working conditions.
Hopefully in the future, we will have more models of color in demand for magazines like Numero, and not have to paint a white model black and name the story “African Queen.” (Ondria Hardin, if you are reading this, I do not fault you, but if not the editors, wasn’t there someone on set that thought it might be a bad idea?) Saying that, recently the rise of the Asian model has been exciting, obviously due to #CHINA$$.
The Fashion Law–Who are some of the models you love right now?
Preston Chaunsumlit–Seasons will change. Some will be memorable, some not. Most will never be seen again. I like new faces. There are many surprises and breakout stars every season and there are the ones who slowly become established. I like to follow the underdogs and the comeback kids.
The Fashion Law–What have you learned about the business of fashion from your work?
Preston Chaunsumlit–It is just like any other industry, just cycles faster. I learned how to communicate better and how to deal with varying types of people. These are things I can apply outside of the business of fashion. I can deal with assholes really well now. :) Also, things like intern abuse, exploitation, non-regulation, etc. is pretty prevalent in the business of fashion.
The Fashion Law–What is one of the biggest professional struggles that you are dealing with right now?
Preston Chaunsumlit–Professionally, I feel it is important to challenge myself. That is part of the reason I decided to collaborate with VFiles. It was something that definitely took me out of my comfort zone. Creatively, it has been challenging.
Let’s be honest.
Model casting is like video games.
Fun to do.
Boring to watch.
The Fashion Law–What are you currently working on?
Preston Chaunsumlit–Just doing a few editorials and a project I am not allowed to talk about just yet. #Summerishere so I need to get out of town!
images courtesy of vfiles & buzzfeed