Abercrombie & Fitch Modeling Recruiting

Front Row profile of Olga Liriano, casting director in world of fashion, who looks for models; photo (M)"Not too long ago, I saw this beautiful guy walking down the street and I walked up to him," Olga Liriano recalled a few mornings ago as she made her way through scrambled eggs, studiously avoiding the encroaching potatoes. "He was Australian. He was so beautiful. I tried to get his number but he just wouldn't give it to me, so I gave him mine."

Though her comportment in the presence of attractive strangers would suggest otherwise, Ms. Liriano is not the city's most egregious flouter of "The Rules." She belongs to the world of those who have license to approach the physically advantaged. She is a casting director, and one of a very particular sort.In recent years, as fashion photography has become more narrative, images have required more bodies and faces with which to tell a story, and the industry has turned to Ms. Liriano and a handful of others to provide them. "Everyone needs a casting director all of a sudden," said Sam Shahid, president of Shahid & Company, an advertising agency that services fashion clients.

The need for Ms. Liriano and other casting agents -- freelancers who comb bars, college campuses, bowling alleys, whatever -- has also grown as a result of the premium fashion now puts on a look that veers away from the ethereal toward the real. Additionally, as Mr. Shahid put it, "everyone wants a new face, and no one has time to find that new face anymore." Modeling agencies "tell you how fabulous" all the models are, he added, "and most of the time they're dogs."

A voluptuous brunette with cheeks the color of a strawberry Starburst, Ms. Liriano started working as an independent casting director for fashion photographers about a year ago, after a decade of booking models at magazines and supplying them at agencies. This week she is in Puerto Rico helping to select 10 finalists for the Miss Universe pageant on Friday -- a more fashion-oriented spectacle than usual, which will have as its hosts Naomi Campbell and Elle Macpherson.

"She's really the person you want to get to know," a male model just starting out said of Ms. Liriano.

Midway through her breakfast at a cafe in Greenwich Village, Ms. Liriano pointed to a picture of a young man in the fall 2000 Abercrombie & Fitch catalog, which she helped cast for the photographer Bruce Weber. "This one I found in a gas station," she said of the young man, dancing in a Santa Claus hat.

In the case of another picture she held -- Gisele Bundchen leaving Grace Church, shot by Steven Klein for American Vogue -- Ms. Liriano was hired to find extras who looked like people who might pass through the portals of a house of worship. "These two," Ms. Liriano said, referring to an older couple in the photo, "I approached in a restaurant." She befriended them, and they invited her to a New Year's Eve party. "I am not shy," Ms. Liriano said, stating the obvious.

Part of the appeal of working with Ms. Liriano, Mr. Weber said, is that she takes a Barbara Walters approach, asking questions beyond "What's your body-fat percentage?"

Ms. Liriano has also worked with Mr. Weber on shoots for the men's and women's editions of Italian Vogue and an ad campaign for Tse cashmere. "She can take a Polaroid of someone who isn't beautiful and show you what's beautiful about them," Mr. Weber said. "Once she found a guy, and I would have never known he was a dancer and planned to be sculptor. It changed the way I looked at him."

Of course, not all of Ms. Liriano's searches end in success, and not all of them focus on unearthing the person inside. In January, she went to Minneapolis to find new bodies for Abercrombie & Fitch. "It was hard to look at people, because they were all bundled up," she said. "Also, it's winter and everyone's drinking beer and has beer bellies." She found no one.

There have been other frustrations. Ms. Liriano was recently hired by Assouline, the publisher and design firm, to find a model for a direct-mail catalog it is producing for Ralph Lauren's Purple Label men's line. She thought to seek out writers and architects for the role, among others. "Ralph rejects everyone," Ms. Liriano said. Her directive has been to find a man who is a mix of Sam Shepard, Gary Cooper and Cary Grant. "Well, yeah, I'm looking for that guy, too," Ms. Liriano said. "Isn't everybody?"

Source: New York Times, May 8, 2001

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