Affa Osman on Navigating the Casting Landscape With Intuition

GmbH Autumn 2022 Campaign by Benjamin A. Huseby | Image courtesy of CLM

Casting director Affa Osman‘s journey into the industry took an unexpected turn from his initial goal of becoming a fashion designer. Starting as a model agent, a conventional path for many in casting, Osman transitioned from a small agency to Nest Berlin. While he found joy in witnessing models evolve, the routine of office work stifled his creative expression and encouraged by his boss, he made the leap into his first casting gig. Osman’s portfolio now boasts collaborations with brands like Y-3, Trussardi, and a frequent partnership with creative directors Benjamin Huseby and Serhat Isik of GmbH. His recent work with GmbH’s Fall/Winter 2024 show during the Paris Fashion Week menswear collections underscores the dynamic nature of his work, which include a diverse range of talents from new faces to designers Dilara Findikoglu and Edward Buchanan, Milan fashion director of The Perfect Magazine and former artistic director of Bottega Veneta. Reflecting on his collaboration with Huseby and Isik, Osman noted, “The fearlessness they exhibit in taking chances with lesser-known models is truly refreshing. We appreciate working with models who offer a unique perspective.” In a conversation with, Osman delved into the evolving casting process, the importance of intuition, and the potential impact of artificial intelligence on the casting landscape.

Where are you originally from? Did you always want to go into fashion?
My mom is from Yemen, and my dad is Habesha. He left as a refugee and came to Switzerland in the eighties. I was born in Switzerland and grew up there— lots of green grass, horses, very wholesome. While I experienced challenges, going back now holds special meaning. Initially, I had lots of interests; I wanted to go into journalism, which still resonates as I occasionally write. Fashion wasn’t always the plan; it just happened. I started dressing up and having fun. In Switzerland, it doesn’t take much to stand out. I wore skinny jeans, which was already considered a scandal. Initially, I thought of becoming a fashion designer, but I realized early on that I wasn’t that creatively inclined for it. I wanted to be part of the industry, but not as a designer. You can do so many things within the industry that are equally important for the entire machine to work.

Can you tell me a bit about your background and how you first got into casting?
I followed the typical trajectory—I began my career as a model agent. Even at a young age, I was interested in the industry and gained some experience in Switzerland. I explored styling, but what truly resonated with me was the modeling side of things. I eventually received an internship offer in Berlin to work at a model agency. Convincing my parents wasn’t easy; they were skeptical about me working for 250 euros. I assured them that I hoped the internship would transition into a job. I managed the salary during the initial three months, covering rent and other expenses.Fortunately, after two months, I was offered a job. While it may not have been the “hottest agency” at the time, being outside the limelight granted me much freedom since there weren’t many people above me – This allowed me to instigate change and try new things, and people started to take notice. Such opportunities might not have arisen if I had joined the “hottest agency.” I stayed there for four years, and during that time, I had the chance to meet numerous people as I became the go-to person for men’s bookings. I essentially handled the men’s division by myself alongside another colleague, and this exposure opened several doors for me. After four years, the desire for further development led me to another agency, Nest in Berlin, where I had an amazing boss. She recognized my aspirations beyond my current role and actively supported my transition into the casting direction. She was the first person to give me a chance and was incredibly supportive, I’m forever grateful to her for that.

What initially attracted you to casting?
What pulled me away from model booking was the realization that, while it’s beautiful to witness models evolve, it involves more office work managing the business side. Men’s booking, in particular, differed from women’s. Eventually, I felt confined to the office routine. Model booking is essentially a managerial office job with creative aspects but not inherently a creative role. I craved the creative side of the industry, and casting seemed like a natural progression. Interacting with various casting directors made me think, “Maybe that’s how I would do it.” I was a bit naive at that young age, but that desire drove me towards a more creative role than I thought I could achieve as an agent.

GmbH Fall/Winter 2024 Show | Image courtesy of CLM

One of the first shows you ever cast in 2021 was GmBH. Since then, you’ve consistently worked with the brand. Since you know the type of model Benjamin and Serhat want, how is your collaboration process with them? Do you wait for a project to come up or suggest models to the brand whenever you see an intriguing face?
First and foremost, they’re like family; we share a close bond, and I’m so grateful to them for opening numerous doors for me. Our collaboration is an ongoing process; It’s a continuous effort where I’m always scouting for potential talent. The beauty of this collaboration lies in the intimate understanding we’ve developed over multiple seasons. We know the intricate details of each other values, defining together what captures the essence of their brand. The fearlessness they exhibit in taking chances with lesser-known models is truly refreshing. We appreciate working with models who offer a unique perspective. Despite agents labeling some as too commercial, we view them differently and believe they can align with a particular collection. Our approach isn’t fixated on constantly introducing new faces. We may incorporate models from the commercial board during our work, although we don’t strictly label them as such. While understanding the agent’s perspective, I tend to filter out external opinions and focus on the model. Plucking them from their current setting and placing them in a new context often results in a surprising realization.

What are the major differences between casting for shows compared to campaigns and covers. What is your favorite aspect of the casting process
Shows are hectic—everyone is stressed, and there’s immense pressure. However, as a casting director, the beautiful aspect is that you often work independently or with your assistant. The show setting feels like a trip, a shared journey, where everyone is in the same boat, emotions running high, and despite the stress, there’s a mutual goal to make the show successful, creating amazing energy. It involves hard work and late hours, but the reward is substantial due to the many people involved. Campaigns typically come after the show, and we bring in models we’ve identified during the season. Having seen numerous models already, we often pinpoint those who stood out in the show and would be perfect for the campaign. Campaigns are more relaxed and isolated, allowing for a faster and less stressful process, depending on the brand and their preferences. Some brands may want the same five models everyone wants, making it more stressful, but for us, there’s a different understanding of what we aim to achieve.What truly excites me is discovering models in unconventional places, telling a whole new story that people might not have seen as possible. With our work, we’ve often been able to highlight different understandings of beauty, showcasing its multifaceted nature. It’s about breaking free from restrictive constructs.

What is your approach when dealing with new clients? Do you find yourself analyzing their ethos to understand who the right model is for the project?
Yes. Ideally, when you’ve worked with people for many seasons, you understand their preferences. With new clients, it’s about mutual understanding and getting to know each other. You delve into the details they’re obsessed with. While you want to leave your mark, respecting the brand’s DNA is crucial unless they seek an entirely different perspective. In such cases, collaboration with the stylist becomes vital—it’s not about disrupting things solo. It’s always about teamwork.

SSAW editorial by Camille Vivier | Image courtesy of CLM

You already touched on this, but what do you look for at the start of a model’s career, and what do you look for in a new face?
I can’t articulate it; it’s truly a gut feeling. It’s about something that sparks joy, an intuition that guides me. As you gain confidence in your intuition, trusting it becomes crucial. I’ve found that I wasn’t satisfied with my work when I ignored my intuition. It’s essential to hear and listen to your intuition and always go with it.

How do you think the role of a casting director has evolved over the years?
The role of a casting director has become more multifaceted. The concept of beauty has expanded, and not all casting directors are necessarily doing the same thing anymore. There’s an evolution in exploring diverse perspectives on beauty. Nowadays, casting directors have various mediums to discover talents. To create something exciting, a casting director must explore different places and expose themselves to various worlds to tell an interesting story.

How do you think social media has changed the casting process and can you speak on your perspective of AI and how does that affect casting?
Social media has made the casting process more accessible. It’s now easier for casting directors to discover people whom, without social media, they might not have come across. However, the algorithm on social media determines what you see and who is connected with whom. You may not see everyone, but it remains a valuable tool for getting in touch. Many people are concerned about AI because it operates based on the data it’s fed.I find it challenging to express my emotions or feelings when I see a model, so it’s hard to envision how AI could explore my intuition and replace that feeling.It’s a valid fear, and I keep an eye on it. However, human emotion is something that AI can’t truly replace.

Y-3 F/W 2023 Campaign by Lengua | Image courtesy of CLM

Do you have a preference for finding models—whether through agencies, on the street, or social media?
Not really, no. Working with an agency is exciting because you can discuss it with an agent. However, I’m equally happy when finding somebody on the street. I couldn’t even tell you what the defining factor is. At the end of the day, I don’t differentiate between these three categories of finding talent; they all deserve the same amount of respect on set. I’m excited for each of them in the same way. It doesn’t make a difference to me; it’s just all different forms of research. I see them as equal models; one may have more experience, but that’s about it.

Not only do you cast for fashion brands and publications, but you’ve also collaborated with artists like Kendrick Lamar, Shy Girl, and FKA Twigs on music videos. Can you share the process of working with artists and directors to bring their vision to life?
It’s an entirely different medium, and I love working on music videos, even though some people may not enjoy it. Music videos have a timeless quality. For instance, the Kendrick Lamar video we did might resurface on your timeline due to algorithms, or people might discover the artist for the first time. It lingers with you a bit longer. The process is incredibly stressful; while you may think an editorial needs to be quick, I’ve never had a music video with weeks to prepare. It’s always like, “We’re shooting this in four days.” It’s intense, but I appreciate it as a unique way of collaboration. I love it because it provides a different avenue for expressing yourself. You don’t have to limit yourself to just working on fashion. It’s a different world where you immerse yourself in research. It’s more like curating an exhibition. Personally, if it’s not music I like, I probably wouldn’t do it. However, it has always been with artists I look up to or admire creatively, so I approach it with passion.

How do you define success in your industry, and what’s next for you in your career?
Success, for me, is accepting who I am and how I work. Casting directors vary—some are louder, others more reserved. True success is bringing my perspective to the table and having it appreciated within the team. It’s about working authentically, delving into the projects I find intriguing, and creatively expressing myself without constraints. That, to me, is genuine success. What is next? I guess my car ride home. Oh God, I don’t know. I guess to keep growing and enjoying what I do. Every time a new milestone happens, I tell myself to keep going and reaching for more.

Affa Osman | Image courtesy of CLM