Our interview with Sandi Bass

Our interview with Sandi Bass

Back in July Models of Diversity's founder and CEO Angel Sinclair was on a business trip in the US when she met the enigmatic Sandi Bass in New York. Sandi, a Casting Director, Former Top International Model, Scout, Lecturer and Philanthropist, loved what Models of Diversity were doing, so we set her some questions to get her ideas and thoughts on a number of subjects related to modelling.
Models of Diversity have campaigned for years on the streets, made representation to The British Fashion Council and protested at LFW. The change has been slow, but the tide is changing slowly. Is there any other course of action you could suggest to strengthen the argument for diversity?
When we speak of “Change” on any topic or level, we are firstly speaking of the peoples mind set which is always a challenge to “Change.” So my thoughts on this is my thought on Life…”Keep Talking and Never give Up!”
These days“ people starting out get quickly disheartened or look for an elusive fast route into the industry. Approximately how many doors and how long did it take for you to get your first good job in modelling?
The fast route to anything is usually an unprepared route for longevity. I cannot remember not loving fashion as I watched my Mother dress elegantly from head to toe with grace as a little girl. Fortunately, as I reached my early teens I had the aesthetics and passion for becoming a model. I pursued my dream as I encountered MANY closed doors as an African American with a rail-thin body. I left my hometown of Nashville, Tennessee at 18 years old knowing it would not happen there and moved to Los Angeles. I went to every agency and got a NO from each one for ten years, so I did every fashion show I could even for $5.00. I didn't care, I was on the RUNWAY! Finally, one of the agencies took my phone number and one year later she called and asked if I was still trying to model. I said yes. She said, none of my girls are fitting the clothes for Givenchy she said “can you go and see if they fit you?” I was thrilled! I meet the elegant Monsieur Hubert de Givenchy, the dresses fit perfectly, I did the show and after the show he asked me to come to Paris and be his muse. So my first great job was in Paris and it took me ten years to get there. I was a member of the historical All Black Cabine at Givenchy where he brought myself and four other American models to work as his muses.
If there were one decision in your made modelling career you would change, what would it be?
Hummmm, I have lived in Paris, Rome and Tokyo working as a model for twenty years for all of the top designers. Now I live in New York and still working in my industry with a chance to give back to aspiring and diverse models. Honestly, I cannot think of one change that I would have made. I am fortunate to have made a nice circle doing what I love.
Not only did you model, but you were also part of a singing group too. Does having an extra talent help, or is it a way of spreading your options for a successful future?
I was a member of a singing group called The Peter Jacques Band with my then husband and three members of the Givenchy Cabine. It was an amazing experience because I am not a singer but the whole group looked great together. I always tell my models to, “Not Be One Dimensional”
What would you say are the most common mistakes that models and actors make when starting out?
I always say be prepared, study your craft inside and out. Success is being prepared and in the right place at the right time and that one chance can make or break a career.
If there is one essential thing to remember when going for a casting what would you say was paramount?
I am also a casting director and what I look for is of course the body measurements to fit the clothes and not far from that is “Personality”, especially today you must be… not just pretty, but “Interesting.”
You have been a guest judge on America's Top Model and you also mentor aspiring models. Do TV show like ATM distort the reality of modelling to those who hope for so much so that when they come to you for mentoring they have an unrealistic perspective, or does the inspiration outweigh this effect?
With respect to Tyra Banks, she helped bring the modelling industry to the public eye. Of course TV has to be entertaining, with that said over-the-top situations must be created. What I have found through my thousands of interviews in castings for Asia and Agency placement worldwide, models think they have what it takes without putting in any effort to learn the industry. There is the “Entitlement Syndrome” that mostly ruins the chances of becoming successful because of the model or talents attitude.
Should a model that has been blatantly discriminated against at a casting confront the organisation there and then, keep quiet, or tell their agency? And, what do they do if they feel they are not being heard?
Confronting a casting direct or designer on a casting is not the best approach unless they were outwardly completely rude to you. Agencies may not address the issue from fear of losing the client. It is sad to let it go and sweep it under the rug.That is why I love Nykhor Paul for standing up and speaking out on the make-up issue for black models. There are ways to speak about these issues intelligently to let people know that you must be treated with respect.
We all know it's hard to take rejection time and time again at casting when a stereotype is being applied to the criteria of selection. What do you advise?
Rejection is a big part of this industry. It should only be accepted when the clothes don't fit or if your face type is not what the client is looking for. But often times race comes into play on this and I always say if a designer won't hire a model of color they should not take their money at the store when that person goes to buy their clothes. We have to continue the conversation that is all we can do on this.
There are know ”repeat offenders“ on the runway shows in New York, London, Paris and Milan who continually and predominantly hire white models in their shows. The trouble is the brand seems bigger than the ethos, so people still buy the brand despite the blatant racism. Surely by boycotting those that offend will hit them where it hurts in the bank balance and share holdings? Do you think this is a good course of action?
There is a saying, “A squeaky door gets oiled.” By naming these designers on social media and keeping their name in print on this subject may be more affective. My dear friend Bethann Hardison has a big voice on this subject and has called out designer names in public. I think boycotting is counter-productive for both sides.
It took Europe/Paris to hire you as a black model back in 1973 and since then the US seems more forward thinking that Europe in this regard. Do you think this fortune will change and why has it almost become a reversal of the earlier thoughts of equality?
I am not sure if the US is more forward thinking on this issue. When Alek Wek was introduced and put on the cover of Elle Magazine in November 1997 as I was very happy to see this beautiful face on the cover my thought was, there are beautiful black American models right here in the US. From there the trend continues to this day gorgeous models from all over Africa are being booked for campaigns, top runway shows, TV commercials, is this a snub to our African American beauties?
Your involvement in wide areas on media impacts on the thoughts and paradigms of those more ”traditional“ in their hiring of models. How do you change these thought processes so that people automatically thing of ”Diversity“ rather than more of the same?
It the end of the day a mind has to first be OPEN for change. The conversation has to continue and I try and find different angles to reach the minds of my audience, making them think about the issue by not preaching to them. And some people just won't change, those we just have to pray for.
In a ”perfect world“ proportional representation in the media should the ”ideal“, so that fashion and the media reject their audience. But, given that people aspire to different things, looks and cultures, does this not in itself ”throw“ the spirit of the time?
This world is made up of a rainbow of colorful things in nature and in us as people. Just like the snow? aka not one of us are alike. That is a beautiful thing and it is what makes us unique. We are each our own “Science Project.” Our challenge is to understand and respect our differences. It is happening at a snails pace where diversity is coming to the forefront. You can see the reflection in TV commercials and print ads where they will cast a mixed race couple as models and their children. This makes me smile.
What are your thoughts on other ethnicities, the Far East for example, having cosmetic surgery to look more ”European“ because of the influence of advertising by the ”super brands“ selling the ideals of western living.
I had an example recently where I was placing an oriental model at an agency in Los Angeles. Against my suggestions on what to wear, the model showed up at the casting in a total western look from head to toe including a cowboy hat. The agency was no longer interested because they felt the model may not know who she is and has no fashion sense. I lived in Asia and I know first hand how they marvel at our western culture, to me their culture is the most respected, civilized, educated, colorful culture that I have experienced.
You are a board member of Women & Fashion Film Fest - Firstly, when leading mature female actors are finding it harder to find roles in film, is this the fault of the writers or the scripts chosen by producers and their backers. Many talented models are also actors and dancers who find easier to get work as models than as actors. How do they make that jump? And secondly, does this mean than we need more female writers, producers and backers; and what hope is there for established actors let alone those new to the industry?
Absolutely, it comes from the top, the decision makers. The backers want to make sure they get their money back and even better make money also. So the producers have to pitch a top name talent attached to the project to get the backers to say, yes. Their first priority is money and mass appeal so this is the talent they want to hire. They want the big box office numbers. It is all about money! Just because a model looks good does not mean he or she has a talent for acting. Making that jump takes taking acting courses and good management. Yes, more female writers and producers at the top make a difference for sure. There is always hope, that is what we should always carry with us.
What support can we give our aspiring actors and models here in the UK and what needs to be done to effect more positive change?
The UK has always been innovative on talent and fashion, after all The Beatles, Twiggy and Kate Moss are the best trendsetters of the world. Some of the best actors in Hollywood come from the UK so I would say to the aspiring actors be yourself and take notes from your successful peers.
In your work with various organisations is seems apparent that ”grass roots“ education is key. For models and parents, sound advice; for Fashion Entertainment and Media, ethics and social responsibility. How do we integrate a programme like this into a UK state education programme which is already stretched to the limits?
Funding is the key; we must get the government on board to implement programs. A special fund should be set up maybe starting with the private schools where the money is more easily accessible.
I understand you are in talks with Angel at Models of Diversity and looking to give a seminar here in London. What areas do you believe we need to address and what inspiration can you give us without giving the game away?
I am so excited to come to London and speak on my passion of this industry and diversity. It was amazing meeting Angel and a blessing. I believe things just line up perfectly in the universe…This is one of them. I will speak on LOVE.
Models of Diversity are keen to learn to. What inspiration can you give us and what support do you think our industry needs now and into the future?
We need to support each other and accept the fact that the mould of the fashion model is changing to reject the whole world. Models of Diversity are right on point! I love what you are doing for the world. It leaves me to kindly thank Sandi for taking the time to answer our questions and we look forward to seeing you in the UK in the very near future.
It leaves me to kindly thank Sandi for taking the time to answer our questions and we look forward to seeing you in the UK in the very near future.




Sandi Bass

Sandi Bass