How Madeleine Østlie Became One Of Fashion's Biggest Casting Directors

In the casting world, there isn't a hotter name right now than Madeleine Østlie. Starting out as a fashion buyer and stylist, a few years ago Østlie changed her course slightly, setting up casting agency AAMO with close friend and collaborator, Adwoa Aboah. Fast-forward to now and she's recognized throughout the industry as being a key part of a new generation of casting directors who are passionately trying to diversify the face of fashion, thanks to her innate ability to street-cast refreshing, striking, and varied young talent. She's also worked with some of the biggest names in the business, casting for magazines like i-D and LOVE, photographers Tim Walker, Alasdair McLellan, and Juergen Teller, and brands including Marni, Fenty x Puma by Rihanna, and Marc Jacobs.

Ahead, Østlie invited us into her East London home to talk through a day in the life of a casting director, and how she's trying to make the industry a safer, better place for models.

Photographed by Jonny Cochrane.
At what point did you realize you wanted to be a casting director? What inspired you to pursue it as a career?
"Growing up, I spent most of my time digging through my mom's wardrobe, trying everything on, making outfits, and wearing her shoes. I knew I always wanted to be in fashion and have moved from buying to styling to casting."

What does your average work day look like?
"It really depends. During Fashion Month, the days are long and intense for weeks on end, as we move from city to city doing shows. Normally, my work day begins the same way — I get up a little later than I wanted to, clean the house, and light a scented candle. I like to ensure my work space is calm and serene, as sometimes my method of work can be a little chaotic. I'm often working on so many things at once — multitasking isn't even the word!"
Photographed by Jonny Cochrane.
Traveling constantly, how do you keep a semblance of a social life and normal routine?
"I have my normal life and routine when I'm in London, and if I have weeks without it, I hugely crave it. Mostly I miss my gym, Blok. My life is always sociable, though. Thankfully that's an upside of the industry."

Are there any women in the fashion industry who have really inspired you? Who have been your mentors?
"Without a doubt Lulu Kennedy [founder of Fashion East] has been my best friend and mentor throughout my career. She gave me my first job after I left Topshop. She took me to my first fashion show, where I sat on her lap; it was the first breakthrough runway show by Meadham Kirchhoff when they had the carpets roll out. It was sublimely beautiful. She was also the one who recommended me to Katie Grand for street-casting for LOVE, and effectively Katie gave me my casting break as such. I admire both of them, and many more, including my agent, Camilla Lowther!"
Photographed by Jonny Cochrane.
The fashion industry has evolved greatly since you first started out. How have you adapted with those changes? Presumably social media has really changed the way you cast?
"Hugely impacted. Not only what the client wants in terms of demographic and that more and more people are looking to street-casting as an alternative for casting commercial campaigns, but also in terms of how images are used and shared. I grew with the changes, and therefore didn't need to adapt as such. But I definitely think this is where some people have been left behind."
Photographed by Jonny Cochrane.
There has been a lot of discussion about the mistreatment of models, particularly spearheaded by James Scully and Cameron Russell. Is this something you're very aware of in the industry? How do you ensure you create a safe space for models?
"It's something I'm not only aware of but something that is obviously of great concern. I go out of my way to ensure that everyone I encounter — not just work with, everyone who comes for a casting or go-see — are given my due care and attention and professionalism and positivity. Just being polite and treating models kindly and with respect, something that seems like a given but often in Paris castings, it's not. I try and go out of my way to help them when possible. Lots of them are good friends of mine and I am always here for them. I have very good relationships with agents and models alike because of this, and I ensure that everyone on my team does the same. It's the AAMO way."
Photographed by Jonny Cochrane.
What would be your dream casting job and why?
"Casting i-D, the whole issue with Tim Walker, and getting to have afternoon tea with him three times a week was already my dream job. I am thankful for all the jobs I work on, and all the work relationships and friendships I have, and my amazing team"

What would be your advice to those trying to break into fashion and casting?
"Work hard. Be kind. Be honest."