The Wall Group were founded in 2000 for the last twenty years have been responsible for the majority of game-changing, thought provoking and stunning images from across the globe. It is the bookers at The Wall Group who work so tirelessly to help their talent land the job of their dreams by creating the magazine covers, advertising and billboards that we all take for granted. But what exactly makes a manager? Who are they and what do they do? Here we talk with a member from each office at the Wall Group and dispel the myth of the ‘Absolutely Fabulous’ stereotype that saturates their job.
Words by Charlie Newman
This is an interview extract. Find out the full version in the Spring Summer 2020 Issue 4
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Candice O’Brien – Director (London) Kate Stirling – Senior Vice President & Managing Director (Los Angeles) Ali Bird – Senior Vice President & Managing Director (New York) Pierfrancesco Grillo – Senior Styling Manager (Paris)
The role of a booker is shrouded in mystery. How did you first discover your way into it? Candice: I started my career in the industry by painting covers at Spring Studios in Kentish Town with the aim to work my way up and become a photographer. I was filled with doubt after assessing the landscape and seeing first-hand how tough it was to succeed. There was a small photo agency and after I spent time quizzing the team on their jobs, I decided that this career fit well with my skill set and immediately changed paths.
Kate: Before joining The Wall Group I was working with Ashton Kutcher, and it was spending time on set that gave me my first introduction to the world of celebrity stylists, make-up artists and hairstylists. In 2002 I joined the LA office of The Wall Group, and have overseen the growth of the celebrity division of the business. We signed our first stylist in LA in 2004 and have since helped to build the brands of top celebrity stylists, make-up artists and hairstylists. When I tell people what I do, most aren’t even aware that there is an entire business around these roles. There is a lot that goes into being part of a celebrity glam squad that the majority of people don’t know!
Ali: My interest in fashion was sparked by a love of photography and my first job was with a photo agency. As a photo agent and producer, I worked with The Wall Group to book talent for shoots and Brooke was always my favourite agent to work with – she was incredibly knowledgeable and always told the truth. I loved and still have a passion for photography, but I wasn’t enjoying the production aspects of my job. Brooke identified that I had the skills to be an agent, and even though I knew nothing about hair and make-up, I decided to take a leap of faith and join her in building The Wall Group.
Pierfrancesco: My path to becoming a talent manager was quite peculiar. I discovered the role of artist’s manager pretty late – before then I was only aware of the existence of a modelling or acting agent. I studied law at university, and after my degree I wanted to re-direct my studies into fashion management as I knew that I wanted to build a career into the fashion world rather than in a law firm. During a short stint of work experience as a casting director, I met the director of a photo/beauty agency in Paris, and we immediately connected. One of her managers at that time was leaving the agency, and she thought that I could be good as a talent manager, even though I had never done the job before. She took the risk of offering me the role of beauty agent and I accepted it. I stayed with that agency for two-and-a-half years before moving to London to join TWG team. This was six years ago.
Last year, more than a million videos on beauty tutorials were watched on the internet every day. Has social media had a positive or negative impact on your talent?
Candice: This area of the market has changed the industry, especially with brands as they see the value in working with talent who not only have high social followings but are also experts in beauty. Artists have been setting trends for years, from the looks sent down from the catwalks and shot in magazines, to celebrity style, and social media has given artists a direct platform for sharing their talents.
Kate: Social media can be both positive and negative for artists. It’s given them a new level of recognition and the ability to speak with their followers directly. Because of this, brands are looking to artists for their influence, something that creates more opportunity for partnerships and collaborations. But clients are also looking at an artists’ social channels and taking this into consideration along with their portfolio and skill set for booking jobs.
Ali: Social media has lifted the veil of secrecy that previously hung over the industry. While social media has created new difficulties, it’s also created more inclusivity, knowledge and an awareness of the hardworking stylists, make-up artists and hair stylists who were previously entirely behind-the-scenes.
Pierfrancesco: Both I think. It’s surely been a positive influence as talent have a visibility via social media that was just unimaginable before and their work can get to a larger audience. Social media has created new opportunities in business for artists, and has made it easier to have a voice. On the other end, it has shifted the way clients were allocating budgets before. I also think that this extreme constant stimulation/need of new content could have negative effects on the artists’ creativity in general.
By making people’s work so accessible, has social media narrowed clients visions of what your talent is capable of e.g. editorial or commercial. Candice: Social media has given artists an opportunity to step out from behind-the-scenes and share their work and point of view. Artists are able to share their knowledge in a more tangible form, and if anything it has broadened their work and allowed artists to showcase their abilities as teachers, ambassadors and creatives.
Kate: For many of our artists, social media has expanded the possibilities and opportunities for them to thrive in their career. It’s not just about what they do on set or before a red carpet, but now they can also share their expertise directly. It gives both clients and followers a holistic view of them.
Ali: As managers, it’s our job to guide an artist’s career, and social media is a part of that. Every artist is an individual, but for artists who want to show their range of editorial, commercial and celebrity work, we encourage them to make sure their portfolio and social media reflect this. Instagram has become a version of a portfolio, and it’s important that it represents who that artist is.
Pierfrancesco: I think that this depends on the content posted by the artists – if they promote both their editorial and commercial work equally, clients will have a proper view of their talent. Social media is just a tool, it’s up to us what we do with it.
The value of print advertising and magazines is decreasing, whilst online presence is rising. How does this effect your role and responsibility as a booker? Candice: I read an article in Business of Fashion that stated in “1998, US print advertising revenue was $61 billion. In 2008, it was $54 billion, just a twelve percent decrease despite rising internet usage. But in 2018, it’s set to clock in at under $15 billion — down a staggering seventy-five percent from twenty years ago.” We know that the budget is still being spent, just in other avenues, which I feel excited rather than deflated about. With that knowledge, we’re looking at where the budgets have shifted and where we can find opportunities for talent in these areas.
Kate: While budgets have shifted, they are still there and it’s up to managers to find those additional opportunities for their artists. While print is decreasing, e-commerce shoots have increased, as well as content creation for social media and marketing purposes.
Ali: The industry has undergone major changes, and as managers, we’ve had to evolve with it. It’s important for managers to be nimble and creative, finding new opportunities for artists. There is a greater need for content, and our artists have become influencers and content creators in their own right. It’s an exciting time to manage talent!
Pierfrancesco: We have seen an increase in requests for digital shoots over classical shoots for magazines or print advertising jobs. Personally, I am still a huge fan of print. I love magazines and think it’s important for artists who want to build a career in fashion to work with magazines and have their editorial work published in them. But there are also new types of artists whose focus is on the digital world (beauty influencers, video makers) whose interest in magazines are, of course, different. In a digitalized world, our role and responsibility as managers is to focus on transparency and ethics and make sure our artists do the same.
Make-up artists, hair stylists and stylists used to be the unsung heroes of the fashion world. Quite rightly they are now being appreciated more in the limelight. Where do you see their roles developing in the future? Candice: Artists have come out from being purely behind-the-scenes and the recognition of their work has given them a voice. It’s led to brand partnerships, creative director positions, and for some artists even the launch of their own brands. The possibilities are endless. As managers, we’re always looking for opportunities to expand and build careers. For some artists, that may be into brand or TV roles, and for others it’s staying true to their craft. Each individual is unique, and we work hand-in-hand with our talent to map out the best path for them.
Kate: Artists will continue to evolve as influencers, especially for fashion and beauty savvy consumers. Brands have taken notice, and will continue to utilize industry experts to tap into culture and authentically connect with consumers. Although the fashion industry has shifted toward influencers, the editorials, red carpet and celebrity looks are still powerful and trendsetting. I think more and more we’ll see artists and celebrities work together to use the red carpet as a platform to express a point of view and have a voice.
Ali: We’ve seen artists step into the spotlight and it’s been hugely exciting. There is a thirst for knowledge and people are interested in seeing how a look comes together and learning who the artist was behind an editorial or celebrity’s red carpet look. We hope this continues and our artists continue to be celebrated for their work and expertise.
Pierfrancesco: I think this exposure will grow in the future and there will be a disintegration of the hierarchy between different types of artists, which is very positive.