Interview: Cassi Van Den Dungen

5 September 2017

Cassi Van Den Dungen is already an industry legend. In 2009, at just 16, she was crowned runner up on season 5 of cult reality show Australia’s Next Top Model, pushing her into the national spotlight and courting offers from some of the world’s top modelling agencies. An international modelling career followed, walking the runways of New York, London, Paris and Milan for top designers and gracing magazine covers across the globe. In a Farrago exclusive, Cassi recently took some time to talk everything from meeting Miuccia Prada to feminism and the importance of model welfare.

You’ve walked the runway for the likes of Miu Miu, Calvin Klein and The Row and shot for the fashion bibles Vogue and Elle. Is there one standout moment in your career so far?
It’s quite hard for me to answer as I’ve had so many stand out moments and it’s hard to choose just one. I have to say though meeting my idol Miuccia Prada was the only time I have been completely speechless. It would personally be my highlight as I never in my life thought I’d get to meet such a powerful woman. She is someone I look up to and aspire to be. Having the opportunity to work with her was something I thought I’d only ever dream about. It was an incredible week and still feels like I dreamt it all.

How would you describe your personal style?
My personal style can vary between gym clothes and designer. I personally like to be comfortable in what I’m wearing. During winter my general day will be something like skinny jeans and a knit top with a trench coat or long jacket. Summer will be a skirt/shorts and a tank top or a body fit dress. Always wearing runners! My fave pair that I have and wear all the time are Adidas by Stella, black high tops. I love my designer handbags and have a few special designer clothing items that I wear on occasion.
So I guess I can go from totally lazy to complete designer, it all depends on how I feel and what’s on for the day.

Is there any aspect of modelling that would surprise the general public?
Something I find most people don’t realise is how hard our job can be. I find a lot of people think our jobs are this glamorous, easy job but there is a lot more to it. Take Paris Fashion Week for example. You are working 24-48 hour days for that week and the 3 weeks prior with minimal sleep (2-4 hours), running between castings, fittings and shows. You can have fittings at 1am, 2am and 4am for shows that’s call time is at 6am, 11am and 2pm so there is no time to rest. Back stage models fall asleep during make-up and hair all the time. I have on numerous occasions had a person hold my head up because I can’t close my eyes without sleeping. It’s simply because you are pushing your body to keep going. You need to be there for your client and when you have 10-20-30 [shows] in a week it gets exhausting mentally and physically. Just like any job when you are over run it takes a toll on your body.  

 Amidst recent reports of mistreatment at even the very top of the industry, and discussions of forming a union for models, how important is it for clients and agencies to protect their models’ wellbeing?
Protecting models and young ones especially is very important. It’s easy to get lost and taken advantage of in the industry and I strongly believe there needs to be more groups like “Model Alliance” (US). Models need a place to go to for help that is separate to the industry. Someone who is not going to say “Oh but….” someone who will listen and can help when models aren’t paid by client or agency. Someone who can help with legal advice, or explain how it should work. A group of people who can come on set and check to see if OH&S is being done correctly.
Actors have a union to ensure they are paid the correct amount, protect them from being mistreated and help them when they are. Models and the fashion industry need that as well.

In the age of social media, the requirements for being successful model seem to be rapidly changing. What would be the biggest change in the modelling industry you’ve witnessed since you began your career?
When I began in the industry social media was only just starting. I’ve watched the change into social media and what it has done to the industry. All of a sudden, models that have worked their butts off to build a career are overlooked for someone who has a higher Instagram following. The “Insta famous” person might be harder to work with than the experienced model but the clients want the following. Social media is now part of our job and if we aren’t keeping up to date on that it can affect the work we receive.

On that note, do you have any advice for aspiring models?
Research! Research agencies, research clients, photographers, stylists, hair and makeup. Research every person you are working with and never ever be afraid to say “NO”. Always stand your ground, if you feel strongly about not wearing fur, well don’t wear it even if the client gets angry at you. This job it’s such a judgmental job and keeping to your beliefs is very important in protecting yourself. Do not be afraid to walk away if you are uncomfortable, they cannot stop you from leaving a job.

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