Sandi Bass On the Importance of Changing with the Times
By Ada Onuegbe
UCOF’s casting director Sandi Bass understands the fashion business from a multi-faceted perspective. She first entered the industry as a model and later channeled her modeling experiences into scouting models for agencies. Sandi’s resume lists honors such as appearing as a guest judge on America’s Next Top Model and hosting seminars for new models at agencies. She is now the owner and founder of Sandi Bass International, a U.S.-based modeling consultancy. Sandi shared her reflections on the evolution of the fashion industry here.
You’ve done a lot of different things in the Fashion Industry. How did your role in Fashion evolve over the years?
I was a model for many years…I knew I wanted to stay in fashion so I thought, ‘Hmm. What can I do?’ A lot of the girls would come into that particular agency that I was with in Tokyo because of me. So I thought, ‘Why don’t I make a business out of it? Why don’t I just scout for this agency?’ So that turned into an amazing business for me as I retired as a model, I was a scout. I still am, actually, for that agency. I’ve been doing that for almost 27 years.
As a casting director, what are the most common misconceptions about The Industry that you hear from young people?
For the modeling industry, they think it’s easy and that all they have to do is be beautiful. I interview thousands of girls a year. When I have a casting and a young lady walks through that door, I want them to be exactly what I’m looking for. First of all, I do look at the appearance. Okay, they’re 5’10. Okay, they’re slim. Alright, Now sit down and tell me something that is interesting about you’. Because 70% of this is personality. A lot of girls wonder, ‘I could be top model, I’m more beautiful than her! I’m more handsome!’ Well, that’s because it isn’t always about the beauty. I was not the most beautiful girl during my time of the 80s. There were many more beautiful girls that I worked with. I worked with Iman, I worked with Naomi Campbell – there were many more girls beautiful than I. I had longevity because ‘they’ liked me. ‘They’ liked my personality. I was present all the time. I was professional. I was on time. They could count on me. A pretty face is just that. It’s just a pretty face. It’s like a shell…That’s not enough! Because you won’t last. Maybe you’ll get one job, maybe two. But it’s all about longevity and making a career out of the modeling industry as well as the fashion industry.
Everybody thinks they’re a designer today…Couture is, unfortunately, a dying aspect of fashion industry today, which is unfortunate because it’s so creative. Just to take a little piece of fabric and start tucking and pinning and nipping. Today it’s all commerce…It’s all about quick, it’s all about getting it out there and marketing and that’s it. The art appeal has been diminished, unfortunately in the modeling industry as well as the fashion industry…Things change and evolve and I’m okay with that. It’s just for our kids today to know modeling and fashion and the history of it. If this is something you want to do, know where it came from and put the education in. A lot of them don’t think they need that education, they don’t need that knowledge, they can just go off of what’s in their head and that does not last.
How has the industry changed in terms of diversity?
When I was coming up, it was pretty much either you were black or you were white. That’s just what it was …When I was a model, it was only black girls on the runway. The white girls did the photos. Now, it has merged and the lines are blurred. It’s a good thing, because that’s what the world is. It’s not black and white anymore…In fashion, the clothes have changed! The girls’ clothes are like the guys’ clothes and the guys’ clothes look like the girls’ clothes…The buyers – they have a heck of a job…Trying to figure out what to put in the stores to please everyone. Everything is so different and everything is so open. This is good. But at the same time, the structure of it is not what it used to be. It’s almost like anything kind of goes right now, which I think is a sign of the times. Yes, it is about freedom – freedom of speech, freedom of creativity. I think we are in an age right now where…people are so verbal and they want to give their opinion, they want to start to talk, they want to express themselves and who’s to judge? Who’s to say what’s right or what’s wrong? It’s like art – beauty is in the eye of the beholder. You look at a Picasso as opposed to a Rembrandt and you see the difference in beauty. Some like Picasso, some like Rembrandt. So we are not as structured as we used to be and that goes for the same in fashion as in modeling. There are agencies now that have a transgender division. They have a division also for disabled models. I think this is great because it is fashion for all of the people.
What do you think are the implications of this “free-for-all” period for the future of fashion?
…The world is actually getting smaller because of technology…and that’s why I think it’s important for each young person to learn a second language, either Spanish, French or Italian. You need to learn that second language to talk about the future. This stuff is the future – international business future. I think it’s great to communicate on all levels, whether it’s through modeling or through fashion, or whether it’s through language – you need to be able to understand a different culture.