Thursday, May 1, 2014

Exclusive Interview - Giannie Couji

During the Fall/Winter 2014 collections IMA took a breather in between castings, agency visits, and photographing of models to rendez-vous with enigmatic industry figure Giannie Couji. What was intended as a half hour meet 'n' greet at Sullivan's Bakery in Chelsea, quickly evolved into a two hour animated discourse on issues pertaining to the fashion industry, modelling, life, and everything in between. Couji is certainly qualified in her observations on fashion, style, and modelling trends having acted as a Contributing Fashion Editor at i-D, Velour Magazine, and as Fashion Director at Above Magazine. High profile editorial and campaign gigs for i-D, The Face Magazine, Oyster, Chanel, Marc Jacobs, and Chopard attest to Couji's enduring reputation as an industry arbiter of style. During the recent Fall/Winter 2014 collections, Couji's astute and discerning eye extended into the realm of casting in collaboration with casting directors Russell Marsh, Elodie Yelmani, and Barbara Blanchard at Victoria Beckham, Tommy Hilfiger, Julien David, and Hermés.

At first impressions, Couji comes across initially as shy and reserved however over the ensuing two hour tete-a-tete IMA peeled back the layers revealing an engaging, humorous, and passionate individual with an infectious life force. While being regaled by tales involving shooting with Linda, Naomi, Kate et al. and photographer Jean Baptiste Mondino for The Face Magazine, walking in Jean Paul Gaultier's fashion show, sharing her cultural 'must see' New York tips, and her views on the industry's sudden embrace of multi-ethnic diversity on fashion's runways, IMA got to the very heart of what drives Couji in her professional and daily endeavours. Generous, kind, and personable by nature, Couji is guided above all by a sense of integrity that is for herself the true embodiment of what it means to be "Inoubliable".

Giannie Couji
Photographer - Audisho & Maximilien
Image courtesy of Giannie Couji


Inoubliable Model Army (IMA): Hi Giannie, thank you for chatting with IMA! IMA initially met you during the early stages of the Fall/Winter 2014 season in New York before the frenzy of Fashion Week took full flight. What have been your survival tips for getting through the four weeks of Fashion Week mayhem?
Giannie Couji (GC): Team spirit, iron will, homemade smoothies to start off the day (with banana, pineapple, and ginger), good food, and prayers!

IMA: You wear many hats as a Stylist, Fashion Editor, Activist, and Casting Director. How did you initially get into casting and which shows did you collaborate on for Fall/Winter 2014?
GC: I was always interested in casting. As a Fashion Editor, I did casting most of the time for my stories. For the Fall/Winter 2014 season, I worked as co-casting director with Elodie Yelmani for Julien David. I assisted Russell Marsh on Victoria Beckham and Tommy Hilfiger, and also with Barbara Blanchard for Hermés.

IMA: What qualities do you look for in a model when casting and are models in general interchangeable between shows?
GC: The key words that come to my mind when casting are special, vibrant, generous, majestic, instinctive, irresistible charm, disarming, and unique. Yes they are. I prefer to choose models who are multi-faceted and who possess a wide range.

Binx Walton
Victoria Beckham - F/W 2014
Casting Director - Russell March
Casting Assistant - Giannie Couji
Photographer - Yannis Vlamos
Source - style.com

Imaan Hammam
Hermés - F/W 2014
Casting Director - Barbara Blanchard
Casting Assistant - Giannie Couji
Photographer - Yannis Vlamos
Source - style.com

Nicole Keimig
Julien David - F/W 2014
Casting Director - Elodie Yelmani & Giannie Couji
Photographer - Marcus Tondo
Source - style.com


IMA: The Fall/Winter 2014 season saw an incredulous number of newcomers vying for key runway spots. Which new faces caught your eye and imagination this season, and why?
GC: Leila Nda, Imaan Hammam, Binx Walton, Lexi Boling, Sophie Touchet, Nicole Keimig, Kassandra Jensen, Kia Low, Ophélie Guillermand, Ana Buljevic, Ysaunny Brito, Tabitha Pernar, and Alba Pistolesi. They're all one-of-a-kind unique beauties with great personality and irresistible charm.

IMA: In your roles as Contributing Fashion Editor at I-D Magazine in the late 90s, as Fashion Director at Above Magazine from 2006 to 2008, and as Fashion Editor at Velour, you have witnessed significant changes in the modelling landscape. What is your take on the current generation of top models and do you feel that fashion will come full circle in returning models front and centre on magazine covers and in campaigns?
GC: This is definitely a new era in the business. In the late 80s and into the 90s, some models would hang out and form friendships with the designers, acting as their muse. I don't think that is the case with the new generation. There are a few exceptions, however, to the very corporate and "celebrity" oriented side of the business. Eventually, I think models will return to the covers but it won't be soon.

IMA: Speaking of the Supers, you have worked with some of the best while styling the Face Magazine's "Super Girls" editorial lensed by Jean Baptiste Mondino and starring Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista, Kristen MacMenamy, Amber Valletta, Shalom Harlow, Nadja Auermann, Helena Christensen, and Kate Moss! What was the inspiration behind the styling for that iconic shoot, how was the energy on set, and what were your fondest memories of that collaboration?
GC: We had to keep it simple because we were shooting during Paris Fashion Week and we had each girl for only 1 hour because they were coming in between shows. The girls brought such energy and I just tried to match it. Topolino came up with the idea to use fake piercings. The girls were amazing considering the short time frame. It definitely felt like a team effort.

Naomi Campbell & Linda Evangelista
The Face - May 1995
Photographer - Jean Baptiste Mondino
Stylist - Giannie Couji
Source - thefashionspot.com

Amber Valletta
The Face - May 1995
Photographer - Jean Baptiste Mondino
Stylist - Giannie Couji
Source - thefashionspot.com


IMA: You also shared casting honours with casting director Elodie Yelmani on Chloé's Pre-Fall 2014 Presentation. Would you mind taking IMA into the selection and casting process for the group that mde the final line-up; Mijo Mihaljcic, Jenia Ierokhina, Elodia Prieto, Lexi Boling, Nouk Torsing, Colinne Michaelis, Ieva Laguna, and Estée Rammant?
GC: We received a brief from Clare Waight Keller at  Chloé with some specifics. Elodie and I felt that the available models offered more that what was in the brief and created a more diverse selection.

IMA: The past two RTW seasons have bore witness to a return to a more inclusive standard of beauty with the emergence of a stunning array of ethnic modelling talent. Do you feel that the recent multi-hued runways will have a long lasting impact and in your role as a Casting Director is it ever a feasible reason to justify a full-caucasian cast based on the "aesthetic" of the designer or fashion house that you are casting for?
GC: Yes it will. For how long? I don't know. Personally, I feel there is no reason to justify a full-caucasian cast. It is sending a wrong and negative message. We're living in a multi-ethnic society and designers should embrace the variety and be more open-minded.

IMA: The fashion industry appears to adopt a dispensable approach to the current generation of models with an ever-alarming turnover of new faces each show season. What would your advice be to models to improve their longer-term career prospects in the fickle world of fashion?
GC: My advice is to be positive and to never give up. I have been involved in many editorials that featured older models as well as newer faces.

IMA: You've lived in three of the major fashion capitals; London, Paris, and New York. Do you have a personal preference between the three, and has your fashion sensibility evolved since you relocated to New York?
GC: My first love was London which will always be dear to me but Paris and New York have allowed me to grow. I like to navigate between the three and sometimes my fashion sensibility might reflect the new environment.

Ophélie Guillermand & Giannie Couji
Image courtesy of Giannie Couji

Giannie Couji & Imaan Hammam backstage at Hermés F/W 2014
Photographer - Leila Ndabirabe
Image courtesy of Giannie Couji

Giannie Couji's New York Street Style
Photographer - John Moore
Image courtesy of Giannie Couji


IMA: Were there any shows that stood out for you as highlights during the Fall/Winter 2014 season from either a casting or design point of view?
GC: Yohji Yamamoto, Sacai, Simone Rocha, Christopher Kane, Bottega Veneta, Hermés, Stella Jean, the Row, Suno, Julien David, and Iris Van Herpen.

IMA: You've styled editorial shoots for i-D, the Face, Bon, Above Magazine, and Velour, in addition to campaigns for Chanel, Marc Jacobs, and Chopard. Tell us a little about your website "Style by Giannie Couji" and what projects can we expect to see from you in 2014?
GC: The website shows a wide range and variety of my work in editorial and advertising. I also started a blog (GC Blog) about a year ago. It's a platform for images of inspiration, portraying photography, music, fashion, and art among other pictorial musings. Check it out at www.gianniecouji.com. I'm working on a few exciting projects with some prolific designers. Stay tuned!

IMA: What inspires you in your daily life and in your professional endeavours?
GC: My inspiration comes from people who work on the front line to improve other people's lives. It could be through a picture, a painting, or even someone on the street or in the subway. Movies, books, documentaries, and friends provide me with many muses.

IMA: What makes you "Inoubliable" (Unforgettable)?
GC: My INTEGRITY.

Giannie Couji
Photographer - Seamus McGarvey
Image courtesy of Giannie Couji

Special thanks to Giannie Couji. For more information on Style By Giannie Couji, please log onto www.gianniecouji.com

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