What does Huxley do?
Huxley represents talent and brands. Anywhere clients interact with brands is my area; we have a diverse roster which is very considered. We just want to work with people who we think are amazing in what they do. It doesn’t matter if you’re a musician, a painter, or a chef: if we think that you’re really pushing the boundaries of your field, then you’re somebody we want to work with. We’ve been doing a lot of work outside music but that’s where we started. With this changing landscape, having a good partnership between an artist and a brand can be beneficial to both. So what we do is build a brand around our artists, and it always comes from them. They’re the creatives and it’s about how they want to tell their story through fashion, beauty, tech, lifestyle. We’re there to build compelling communities, making sure it’s the best creative teams, the best design teams, the best press around the partnership. We want to make sure that everything makes sense. For me a good partnership is a good partnership, it’s quite old-fashioned. Good work is good work, and I think that’s our ethos. It doesn’t matter who you are, if we can do a partnership that we really believe in and that creates cultural impact, then why not do it?
I think some brands really are the new patrons of the arts who make incredible projects happen.
Totally. I love brands and working with them. Brands have such power to help artists create projects that otherwise would’ve been more difficult to do. It means that an artist can realise an amazing video or performance, and whether it’s on artist’s terms or whether they do it through a brand channel, that’s open for discussion. For a while, an artist doing brand partnerships was seen as a side part of their business but that’s no longer the case.
“Brands found an opportunity to create really good content and work with creatives – photographers, stylists, artists – that previously would’ve only really been possible for a media title.” – George Georgopoulos
In the past people really thought you sold your soul.
Yes, there’s all these examples of where an artist would do a TV ad in Japan because it would never be seen in Europe. We talk to artists every day who want to work with brands and want to go to shows, meet designers, and do collaborations. That’s new, I think.
When do you think this shift happened?
I think there are two things that happened at the same time. I don’t know if one was a reaction to the other, but with magazines changing and moving to online, there was an opportunity for someone to step in and create content. I think all these things interacted at once. Brands found an opportunity to create really good content and work with creatives – photographers, stylists, artists – that previously would’ve only really been possible for a media title.
“We’re just not really interested in partnerships where they give you an exorbitant amount of money, you can’t say what you think, you just show up and do the thing, and then we all go home.” – George Georgopoulos
Does all the creative come from Huxley’s side, or does the artist approve?
Artists always have the final say, it all goes through them, but we very much create the environment for a partnership to be impactful; focusing on the execution, creative, strategy, PR & social release. What I sometimes find quite frustrating with brands is that they want to work with an artist or designer but don’t really think through why it’s important that the artist has input on creative, copy, and timing. But we can say to a brand: “We have a proven track record with partnerships that create cultural impact, so you need to let us help make this partnership the best it can be.” We’re just not really interested in partnerships where they give you an exorbitant amount of money, you can’t say what you think, you just show up and do the thing, and then we all go home.
“Brands want the visibility of the artists and you could just say yes to all these things, do lots of projects, everybody makes money. But what is the story you’re telling?” – George Georgopoulos
How do you choose who to work with? You’ve got big names but I also saw you represent a curator with a smaller following.
Kimberly Drew is somebody who we felt had something important to say as a young person in the arts. We saw a clear vision for her to talk to brands about art, creativity, and culture, and she can do it from a really authoritative standpoint. Within the team, I know what I’m interested in, so naturally, some people will fall into that. We might have another agent who is interested in something completely different.
“You often see it with artists who do Nike and then two weeks later are doing Adidas. I look at that and, as a consumer of popular culture, I don’t know what that says about you.” – George Georgopoulos
What do you think are the main challenges that you have now, both from a brand and a talent perspective?
Something that we have to think about a lot, especially on the brand side of things, is the narrative that we’re building with an artist. Brands want the visibility of the artists and you could just say yes to all these things, do lots of projects, everybody makes money. But what is the story you’re telling? When we’re planning a deal, we think about how that impacts a deal next year or the year after that, and how we are building a legacy. That you’re not an artist who does a lot with brands for a year and then falls off because you’ve been everywhere. It’s about creating really long-term demand. Often that means saying no to things that don’t fit into what the roadmap for the next 10 years should be. That’s something we need to be mindful of. You often see it with artists who do Nike and then two weeks later are doing Adidas. I look at that and, as a consumer of popular culture, I don’t know what that says about you. If you’re just taking the cash, that’s completely okay, but what does it mean? Especially within fashion, people see through hollow partnerships really easily, don’t you find? You know when it’s not right, and there’s an energy around these partnerships where you can tell that somebody convinced the artist to do this, rather than the artist really having the authority to say what they want to do.
“When smaller brands are planning a show or campaign, if there isn’t a compelling reason to work with an artist, my opinion is that you’re better off not doing it.” – George Georgopoulos
In fashion, we think for a long time about what shows our artists should do and what that partnership means. In terms of the front row, there used to be 5 to 10 amazing people who were so synonymous with the brand they’re with. These shows now have 80 people on the front row, and they’re at every other show that day. So what kind of storytelling do you want to do with the artist that you want to interact with? When smaller brands are planning a show or campaign, if there isn’t a compelling reason to work with an artist, my opinion is that you’re better off not doing it. If you don’t know really clearly why you have a person in the front row, then I think don’t waste your time or money. Wait until the right thing happens. I wonder from a brand perspective what they perceive the challenge to be, because I think there’s an anxiety around what it means to have all these people at your show, what it means to have all these covers and campaigns.
I’ve heard complaints about the front row seating plans of several fashion brands recently, how there’s a disconnect between the PR agency and the designer, who would’ve wanted certain people to be invited.
I sometimes wish people would talk more. We always end up with these chess manoeuvres. The PR is overwhelmed so they are maybe not communicating everything back to the designer or to the marketing team. And sometimes I wonder if we can all be clearer in communications. With our business and from our corner of the industry, every opportunity that comes past my desk is run by an artist, because I represent my artist but I do not think for them. So it doesn’t matter if they’re invited to a show by somebody who hasn’t even graduated, doing a show in their mum’s front room…
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It’s my responsibility to show these things to an artist, because I don’t know, they might!
Years ago we wanted to shoot 600 pages on Björk.
I bet you did. But, yes, that would’ve gone by Björk. We should all just talk more, it’s okay, I’m just a person. We’re in a people business. I find it so funny when an artist says, “I don’t feel completely myself in this look that I’ve been sent for the show,” and a brand can be a little standoffish about that. I think: “That’s a person though, they should feel comfortable and you should want them to feel comfortable.” Let’s just take it easy.
“Life’s a lot easier when you’re transparent about what you can and can’t do.” – George Georgopoulos
Yes, people are inclined to forget that behind a communication is an actual person.
It’s not natural to think about what every individual wants. But you’re so right, sometimes things just come down to: why does a brand want to work with an artist? It’s simply because that person is a fan. And that’s cool. I just think we should all just talk it through.
What’s the difference between Huxley and talent agencies? We all offer something quite unique, but I believe our work speaks for itself. We can comfortably manage a global commercial ad, and then go really deep into a cool emerging artist campaign, and ensure it all fits into the one space, creatively. What a lot of our artists have in common is that they’re truly independent, and they have that spirit of wanting to have their work out in the world. Charli XCX headlining Coachella, Charli in a massive global campaign, Charli as the face of JW Anderson; while they’re different, we really understand all those things and their importance to an artist’s career, and to their fans. That understanding is in the DNA of the agency.
“I see this a lot with young designers, some are really amazing at knowing that even if it’s their name, they are aware it’s the brand, and that they need to do what satisfies the brand rather than their ego.” – George Georgopoulos
And maybe that would be too small for other agencies?
I think it’s different priorities. We’re really next to our artist, talking to them all the time. And I think artists are starting to think differently about what their careers and set-up should be. We’re really partners to our talent. I think there’s also this idea historically that a talent agent or PR has to be really combative. Yell at you and tell you off. But we just want to do impactful work.
How do you evaluate if a partnership is good?
I think it’s a mix of different things. I would say that the thing you need to look out for is whether somebody is being transparent because you can only really make a judgement when you know what somebody wants from you. And there’s got to be something instinctive going into business with somebody. You have a feeling about whether or not it’s the right project. Also, don’t do something that you can’t really deliver, and feel free to push back on something. If you know that you can deliver really good content but maybe your production is lacking, then I think you should push back and be able to say: I’m happy to produce this content, do it on time, it will be really good, but I’m not as comfortable doing *this*. You should say that from the beginning so nobody is surprised later down the line, when it comes to delivery day. Life’s a lot easier when you’re transparent about what you can and can’t do.
Do you meet lots of people who manage their own partnerships? Do you think that works?
I think you can do it. Probably the challenge is removing your creative endeavour from your business endeavour, and removing your emotions. What I would say though, is that often it’s good having somebody to act as the filter. Because you will not feel personally put on the spot if there’s a moment to think, reflect and understand somebody else’s point of view. I see this a lot with young designers, some are really amazing at knowing that even if it’s their name, they are aware it’s the brand, and that they need to do what satisfies the brand rather than their ego. That’s really hard. Especially when you’re just trying to keep the lights on. But I think that you can. It’s hard to represent yourself, and it’s hard to ask what you want. But you’ve got to practise that and work through how to be comfortable.