John Pfeiffer, Victoria’s Secret's Casting Director

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Adriana Lima at the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show 2013
Adriana Lima at the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show 2013Courtesy of Victoria's Secret

Meet the man who picks the angels for the biggest catwalk show in the world

In terms of sheer scale and all-out excess, the catwalk's Super Bowl must be the annual Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show that takes place at the Park Avenue Armory in New York in November. Invented in 1995 by the American intimates brand to showcase its creations; over the years, the show has snowballed to an elaborate blockbuster production featuring Broadway-worthy sets and performances by superstars like Rihanna, Kanye West, Nicki Minaj and this year, Taylor Swift. The show costs an estimated $12 million to produce and is broadcast to 11.5 million homes, virtually granting next-level status for any model who stars in it. “The Super Bowl is a good analogy because the girls are like athletes," agrees its casting director, John Pfeiffer. “They need to be prepped and primed, and at their peak.”

"The girls are like athletes: they need to be prepped and primed, and at their peak” — John Pfeiffer

After a start working for production powerhouses, KCD and Bureau Betak in the ‘90s, Pfeiffer branched out on his own and is a long-term casting director for Bottega Veneta, Donna Karan, DVF and Michael Kors among others. But he describes casting for Victoria’s Secret as being unlike any other show he works on, still marvelling at the first show he produced in 2000 at the Cannes Film Festival that featured the likes of supermodels Stephanie Seymour, Laeticia Casta, Heidi Klum, Gisele Bundchen and Karolina Kurkova: “That was really special. Starting with the flight from JFK to Nice airport taking all the models to the photo call. I remember hundreds of photographers screaming their names when we landed. It was truly a unique experience.”

Over the years, the show has nurtured the careers of big league models from Doutzen Kroes, Adriana Lima, Behati Prinsloo and Alessandra Ambrosio, whilst also luring in the high fashion likes of Joan Smalls and Karlie Kloss. Strutting down the catwalk in their Swarovski embellished angel wings and of course the multi-million dollar ‘fantasy bra’ (this year’s lucky recipient was Candice Swanepoel) is a feat which Pfeiffer puts down to a combination of freakish genetics and military-level discipline. “These girls work hard at maintaining their careers. They don’t just show up for a job – they train and prepare and it shows in their longevity.” This year saw a welcome injection of British blood to the proceedings with Lily Donaldson, Jourdan Dunn, Cara Delevigne and newcomer Malaika Firth injecting sass and outsized personalities to proceedings. “Personality is everything,” states Pfeiffer emphatically, “They are all gorgeous but personality and the ability to project themselves on the biggest runway in the world – that really counts for so much. It’s what sets these girls apart from the masses of models that are out there.” Working with some of the most beautiful specimens on earth has given Pfeiffer a unique perspective on the subject. “There are so many definitions of beauty," he muses. "It’s much more than physical appearance. Beauty encompasses character, personality and uniqueness.” That, says Pfeiffer with a wry smile, is how an Angel earns her wings.

Text by Kin Woo