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New PandemicsPhotography Richard Kern

The New York management agency championing LGBTQ+ talents

Founded by casting director Cody Chandler, New Pandemics aims to be the go-to for brands which want to be genuinely diverse

You might think that fashion, of all industries, would be the most accepting when it comes to the LGBTQ+ community, but that isn’t completely accurate. As recently as 2015, gay models John Tuite and Carlos Santolalla revealed that they were discouraged from being open about their sexuality by model agencies. They aren’t alone, with countless others revealing similar struggles.

To combat this, casting director Cody Chandler (who cut his teeth working for agent Barbara Pfister) created New Pandemics – a New York-based casting and management agency solely for LGBTQ+ faces, with his main aim to become a go-to for brands which want to be genuinely diverse.

As well as featuring those with a range of different genders and sexualities, the current board is diverse in terms of ethnicities and body types too. More so than a traditional agency, Chandler wants to encourage the individuals he’s representing to pursue their outside interests. “There’s no modelling for the sake of modelling,” he says. “The talent really differs and a lot of them have a strong sense of purpose.”

“There’s no modelling for the sake of modelling. The talent really differs and a lot of them have a strong sense of purpose” – Cody Chandler 

“I like approachable, interesting characters, I always have,” he tells us. “I don’t like typical definitions of beauty. I’ve never been really aligned with mainstream attractiveness.” The same approach applies for New Pandemics. Not only a platform for LGBTQ+ talents, the agency is set apart from others as 10 per cent of its profits will go back into the LGBTQ+ community. The first recipient is the Ali Forney Center, but the plan is to expand to other charities as it grows. “I want to support people within the agency, but I also want to support the community as a whole,” explains Chandler.

To celebrate the agency’s opening, Chandler enlisted photographer Richard Kern to shoot the first faces he’s representing. “Richard seemed like the best fit for me, I’ve known him a long time,” he says. “I like the provocative tone of his work and I think that this agency is definitely a provocation to knock things left of centre, to force ideologies to shift in a good way.

Here, we catch up with Chandler on what you can expect from New Pandemics.

How did you first get into casting?

Cody Chandler: Barbara Pfister took me in originally and I worked with her on several campaigns over the years. She’s known for work with David Sims, Steven Klein, Steven Meisel, and early 2000s iconic stuff like The Face. Barbara gave me an opportunity, and I enjoyed working with her.

What were some of the skills you learnt from her?

Cody Chandler: Barbara is the master of street casting. She’s got this heat-seeking, intuitive quality about her on the street and she finds really interesting faces. She doesn’t have that fear and those barriers of going up to people so I really took that from the experience and it rubbed off for sure. That’s actually helped me form New Pandemics because it took that fearlessness to actually approach people and go into certain environments and reach out to new faces.

What was the starting point that made you want to create New Pandemics?

Cody Chandler: It was a sequence of events. Within casting, there were brands that didn’t necessarily know how to navigate the landscape of non-binary, transgender, and LGBTQ+ talent in general. A transgender model wrote an email and was pretty much in tears over having to endure being addressed by the wrong pronouns all day. That really bothered me and I didn’t speak up at the time, but now I can see that it was something that I took note of and saw that this (agency) was something that was really lacking and that needed to happen.

“We feel that the fashion industry is progressive and we feel like we’re insulated and protected but there’s still a lot of work to be done” – Cody Chandler 

What is your main goal for the agency?

Cody Chandler: New Pandemics is a casting and management agency that works at increasing LGBTQ+ visibility. That sums it up in a sentence. It really is about visibility and advertising is so powerful to help with that. I feel like visibility is an antidote to otherness and it’s so important that people are exposed to people that are different to them, or similar to them as well. To feel like they have a community and that they belong.

I really want to support the individuals within the agency. They’re using modelling as their own platform. Modelling isn’t always sustainable and I want them to use their minds and their voices and to take it to support their own personal endeavours and their own personal projects.

Do you feel like models are often not able to be open about their sexuality?

Cody Chandler: I know several models with mainstream agencies that can’t be vocal about their identities or sexuality at all; this is another reason that I wanted to start New Pandemics. We feel that the fashion industry is progressive and we feel like we’re insulated and protected but there’s still a lot of work to be done.

It’s something that really is an issue with agents in general. They’re putting the idea of mass appeal in front of the person’s feeling and treating somebody in a respectful way. It’s putting profits over the person.

Do you think it is the same for brands too?

Cody Chandler: I think that there’s a sincere push for brands to be inclusive and I think they want to be inclusive but I don’t think they know how to go about it in the right way and the most respectful way. Providing a place for them to educate themselves and to actually pull talent that is informed and active in their communities, that was something that was important to me.

Have you noticed attitudes in the casting industry around diversity changing over the years?

Cody Chandler: It’s really shifting. I don’t think it’s narcissistic, but I think that people want to see representations of themselves in advertising. It’s becoming more democratised and a little more authentic. We have so much artificiality within news and in imagery and there’s a backlash against it.

I think it’s because you have companies that are doing less retouching – you have even American Eagle, that’s very mainstream obviously, but is now doing these stripped back campaigns. So it’s trickling its way, not only from high fashion, with brands like Eckhaus Latta and other more approachable brands, but it’s going all the way down to the mainstream. To me, I find it really important and something that is very necessary and needed to happen.

Why was it important for you to contribute some of the agency’s profits to LGBTQ+ charities?

Cody Chandler: We shouldn’t be in a day and age where there are statistics that say that 40 per cent of homeless youths identify as LGBTQ+. A lot of these situations came to be because individuals didn’t fit into their communities and their families and had no place to go. There are people within the agency that have actually had that experience.

It’s 2018. We can’t have that kind of circumstance, where being honest and truthful with yourself and with other people grants you getting your basic survival needs getting taken away from you at such a young age. It really makes me emotional discussing it because it’s something that I could have or any other individual from a conservative background could have experienced but I was lucky enough not to.

“Visibility is an antidote to otherness and it’s so important that people are exposed to people that are different to them, or similar to them as well. To feel like they have a community and that they belong” – Cody Chandler

What message are you trying to send to brands, as the go-to for LGBTQ+ talent?

Cody Chandler: There’s no excuses anymore, that’s the thing. I don’t want to let brands have an excuse anymore because I’m giving it, I’m providing the space.

What are your plans for the future growth of New Pandemics?

Cody Chandler: There is roughly 15 talent that are signed right now. It’s more focussed on LGBTQ+ youth at the moment, but what I do plan on doing is to provide the board of directors, who will act as mentors to the people within the agency, to help them with their own endeavours and their own pursuits.

For the agency, it will definitely expand in terms of the number of people that I’ll be representing. It’s already diverse but I hope to diversify even more to people across the spectrum. It’s something that’s really important to me and to keep it balanced and to make sure it’s representative of the LGBTQ+ community. That’s something that I’m really working hard on. My major concern is not to paint a picture of doom and gloom. It’s a positive project, but a resolve of negative experiences and hopefully that can come through. It’s not an ‘us against them’ agency at all.