I had the pleasure of interviewing the founder and owner of the Paris based fashion illustrations agency ‘Agent & Artists’, Kajsa Leanderson. Both having Scandinavian/ Swedish roots with a passion for fashion and art, made this ‘get together’ a feel right synchronicity for me.
Her and her team’s track record with an impressive clientele, makes this an interview of interest to all our followers and likely will motivate most to explore their online footprint which is expanding and gaining popularity in social media.
Enjoy this blog and as usual we appreciate your comments.
1. Could you give us a bit of background about your work, education and how you started working as an illustration agent?
I studied Business Management at university, and my first job was as an Account Manager at an advertising agency in Paris. After a few years I continued my studies at a Masters program in Management of Fashion and Textiles (Institut Français de la Mode), http://www.ifm-paris.com/. After graduating I met the Swedish fashion designer Lovisa Burfitt and we started the ready-to-wear brand Burfitt, based in Paris. At that time Lovisa was already working half time as an illustrator and when her agent in Stockholm closed down she asked me to represent her. I told her “Sure, how does it work?” That’s how I began as an agent… For 2 years I only represented Lovisa but in 2008 I decided to start Agent & Artists and to recruit some more artists.
2. How do you select the illustrators you want to work with?
I want a beautiful mix of different but complementary styles. The red thread is fashion and design since most of the artists have a background as fashion designers or within fine arts. I want to keep the agency quite small and try to avoid internal competition.
3. How did you establish the impressive clientele for your fashion illustrations agency Agent & Artists?
It is much thanks to the talented artists I work with. It is quite easy to approach fashion houses and established brands with their portfolios. And of course, the more nice references we have, the easier it is to find new clients. I believe it is a strength to have fashion, design and beauty as the main focus, it gives us more credibility.
4. From the relayed style it seems the focus is on staying true to fashion, art and design, but are there ever moments of compromise in favor of commercial and financial gain?
Yes of course. We don’t close any doors and often bigger and more commercial clients contact us because they want a touch of edgy fashion or something a bit feminine. The artists also like the challenge to create something different and get out of their comfort zone. I have the chance to work with curious, open and positive illustrators. But of course, sometimes we say no to a project if it doesn’t feel right.
5. How does an artist join your list and can you elaborate on your selection criteria?
I often get demands from fashion illustrators but I want to keep a good balance of different styles (not necessarily pure fashion drawings). I want people to discover a new universe when visiting my artists’ pages on our web site, not didn’t I just see this on a previous page?. Since all my artists are specialized within the same area it’s important that the style is kind of different (even if many of them use the same media). So I look for styles that I fall in love with and that are not too close to my actual roster.
6. How important is technology for your line of business and to what extend do you leverage the cutting edge on either the business (e.g. e-Commerce) or creative (e.g. digital editing/ retouch) side?
Technology is of course very important today. Although all my artists work by hand, i.e. they draw manually and not with a computer, Photoshop is a fantastic asset in order to be able to modify the artwork according to the clients’ requests when needed.
The internet has also opened up for a worldwide clientele. We can send portfolios to an overseas client within a few seconds, that saves a lot of time and money.
7.Do you have any advice for someone looking to work with or as an illustration agent?
Work on a coherent and well presented portfolio. It can of course be based on only “own work” for a beginner, but the scans should be clean and in a good resolution.
To be an agent I reckon a mix of being a good organizer, passionate, caring, business minded and diplomatic are some rather useful assets.
8.Does your narrow supply style get in the way of demand or is it an advantage having a clear character to be used as a unique selling point?
I feel it is an advantage, clients often know why the contact us and have halfway made up their mind on a specific artist.
9. Do you apply a logic and methodology to rating and pricing the work of your listed artists towards the customer base? If so, can you highlight some of the used criteria in this process?
Our quotations are based on an artwork rate and on top of that comes the usage fee depending on how the illustration(s) will be used. But the fee really varies depending on each project. There are not really any fixed rate for anything.
10. What in your opinion are advantages for artists working with you?
I am very organized and rigorous and I do my best to be on top of things and follow up closely. I often have an open dialogue with them regarding the fee, conditions etc when I feel it is necessary. I believe in transparency and a clear communication. I like to think they feel I am honest and always put their interests in the first place. Being fluent in Swedish, French and English as well as having a perfect cultural knowledge of my 2 main markets (France and Scandinavia) is of course positive and helps when negotiating.
11.What is your main contribution to the art and design community and where/ how do you fit in?
Having 14 very talented artists within one agency, where the selection is based on their artistic work rather than commercial skills, is both interesting and inspirational to our audience. Some of my artists do not work so much on commercial projects but I am very happy to have them on board since their beautiful drawings really have an added value to the global portfolio of the agency.
12. Is it easy for you to deal with the contrast in character between the business and artistic side of your work?
Yes, I think I have both business and artistic skills and it is a privilege to be able to mix both.
13. Tell us about a few of your clients you are most proud of having worked with and the related events.
We have had a long term business relation with H&M. They are very professional and easy to work with, they really know how to brief and respect an artist. Lovisa Burfitt has worked on wall decoration for their flagship stores and the result in each shop is really great. Their internal design department composed fantastic wall graphics with her illustrations, it was a very nice collaboration.
In 2015 the Parisian department store celebrated their 150 years and Yui Taniguchi did the illustration that was used on the bags that were distributed in the store during the whole year. We were very proud to see these bags all around Paris during the whole year (and still sometimes today).
This year has been the year of animated illustrations. We have worked on several animated movies and one favourite is Piet Paris’ animated movie for the launch of the Viktor & Rolf fragrance Bonbon Couture
Other very nice collaborations have been with the perfumer Penhaligon’s, Guerlain, Jimmy Choo, Lancôme, LVHM, Nordstrom, Sephora to mention a few.
14. Is it a noticeable advantage being based from Paris and who and where are your main competitors?
Yes I think so. Paris is the capital of fashion so I feel we are in the right place. There is also such a rich history of art in France and I like the idea of being based in the old artistic neighbourhood Montmartre.
Our competitors are a little bit everywhere, both in Paris, London, New York and Stockholm. The world is really reduced with the internet.
15. Which aspect of your work gives you the most gratification?
It is so nice when a project begins and the illustrator starts to send the first proposals. It is very interesting to see how they interpret the brief and the beautiful ideas and concepts they often come up with. And the nicest part is of course when a project ends and the client is very satisfied.
16. Considering the last 8 years, how do the next 8 look like for you and Agent & Artists?
I hope of course to expand business both in Europe and overseas, and I believe one of the keys is social media. We are rather new on both Instagram, Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter and Pinterest, but I hope to get more and more followers and inspire people from all over the world on a daily basis.
I am dreaming of a nice atelier that could be used both as an office, showroom and boutique. It would be nice to do inhouse exhibitions once in a while and allow people to discover my artists’ work and buy an original drawing.
17. Where can we best find some additional background of your group of artists?
There is a biography of each artist on our homepage. Most of them also have Instagram accounts and / or a Facebook page.
18. Is there anything we forgot to ask and you’re dying to tell us?
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