The age of internet has taken many forms as well as helped to form many new generation businesses. Digital founder’s JENNIFER MARIE & MARIO HUGO GONZALEZ of agency HUGO & MARIE are leading the charge by marrying handcrafted with hardware.
BY KENNETH RICHARD
Hugo and Marie, looking forward to talking shop as you’ve built an interesting one. Would you mind sharing with me how you would describe your agency?
MARIO HUGO GONZALEZ: We typically describe Hugo & Marie as an imaginative creative agency. I think the interesting part of the model is that it has really grown in two halves. On one side, we’re a talent agency representing artists, directors, illustrators, and photographers. The other half is the design studio, which focuses primarily on branding and interactive work, and is largely involved in work for fashion, music and beauty brands. Audiences are typically attracted to things that are a bit more emotional when it comes to fashion and beauty — things that are more difficult to articulate — so in our work, it’s really about showing art and making it both beautiful and communicative. Our work is strategic, but also very expressive.
You mention fashion and beauty as clients. Can you share a little bit about who some of those clients are?
JENNIFER MARIE GONZALEZ: Because of the way the agency is structured, we work with fashion clients in different ways. Mario’s very first commercial commission was for Ed Leida over at W. We have always had an interest and love for working with fashion clients and creative, editorial media. Over the years we’ve done everything from illustration for Dolce & Gabbana and Hermès, through editorial work for Vogue, Please!, and AnOther. We’ve launched e-commerce sites for Stella McCartney, and then turned around to provide video direction for 3.1 Phillip Lim, or textiles and embroidery for our friends over at Cushnie et Ochs. We love working on multimedia projects.
We’ve worked on a number of digital projects that really range in scale. Our clients include Clé de Peau Beauté, Trademark, Tabitha Simmons, Sleepy Jones, Alabama Chanin, and L’Oréal Paris. We also work with a lot of music clients that overlap with fashion, like Rihanna, Solange and Lorde. Generally, the brands that we work with seem to identify with the agency’s direction and illustration. There’s an artful sense of emotion and play in most of our creative, including work for the web.
So how does someone like Andy Spade of Partners & Spade and also Sleepy Jones find you?
JENNIFER MARIE GONZALEZ: We’ve worked for Partners & Spade for several years, actually. One of our artists, Hisham Akira Bharoocha, did some concept development work for a campaign they were working on. When they launched Sleepy Jones, we worked with them on plans for the front end of the website, then provided full back end development for the first version of the site. We actually just relaunched the site this past fall. They’re a fantastic team and we have a tremendous amount of respect for the work that they do.
How did the agency come about and how did you end up on the digital front? You have a lot of competency in that space.
MARIO HUGO GONZALEZ: Well, I was working as an artist/illustrator, and I was directing for music clients mostly, back in 2008. Jennifer was in fashion design, having graduated from Parsons. She worked with Proenza Schouler, Isaac Mizrahi, and for J.Crew, and she was working on her own personal jewelry line. We were together, we wanted to work together, and we found that we were interested in the same art, same films, and same general aesthetic. At that time, I was really ambivalent about agents because I’d known a number of artists that had really poor experiences. So we thought that we’d try to make an agency ourselves, something more transparent and familial. Looking back, this was a bit naive, and maybe a bit arrogant, but that was the birth of our illustration agency, back in 2008, and now we have great relationships with each of the artists on our roster.
In terms of digital work, we were friends with the girls at Cushnie et Ochs from Jen’s days at Parsons. We met with them about a brand site, and that was really our first foray into designing and developing sites for fashion. It wasn’t our focus as a business at that time, but we felt that we understood art direction and photography, illustration, and we also knew how to balance that content against a compelling site design, or an oddly pleasant interaction. Later on, we were contacted by Stella McCartney. That site won some awards the year it launched, more opportunities started to present themselves, and now we have a large branch of our business dedicated to interactive design. We’re excited to be relaunching the CFDA and Fashion Calendar later this year – these sites are really going to be at the intersection of style and technology.
How did Stella come about?
JENNIFER MARIE GONZALEZ: That was kind of a dream project. We were approached by friends who run a PR firm who were speaking to Stella McCartney’s Global Communications Director. We had several meetings, things went well, and though we didn’t have a huge portfolio at the time, we were invited to pitch their business. We were quite new and young, but we were incredibly driven to win that client. Honestly, I don’t know that we’d worked so hard in our lives. We won the pitch, designed the front end and a couple evolutions of the site. We ended up working with them for about two and a half years. That experience really helped us to establish our process for working on global, enterprise e-commerce projects.
MARIO HUGO GONZALEZ: It was transformative. The other thing I’d say about Stella is that they cared about brand experience and pushing digital in a time when best practices were beginning to singularly define luxury fashion online. We tend to work with people who identify a bit with an artful, illustrative aesthetic and with that sense of play. I think that’s something that represented a shared common interest between our teams – the Stella McCartney site had to be fun and tactile. It needed to be a flagship store.
I would love to hear a little bit more of what you see happening out there in the landscape today and into the future.
JENNIFER MARIE GONZALEZ: I think that the high-end fashion industry in particular has really championed art collaborations for a very long time, and I think that these collaborations and partnerships have really started to extend to a broader, more pop culture market. I’m excited that there are so many more opportunities to leverage art in media and commerce. I think that communication is getting weirder in some ways, and that a lot of this has to do with the internet and more universal accessibility to media. But I just personally love how art can feed commerce and vice-versa. It’s become just a much more widely accepted model.
What do you mean by weirder?
JENNIFER MARIE GONZALEZ: I think just more creative or distinctive. I think that, in terms of media or advertising or publishing content in general, people’s appetite for creativity has broadened, in terms of what they expect. I think that people who are expressing, whether it’s fashion, art, music, video or photography, can make work just a little bit more –
MARIO HUGO GONZALEZ: Challenging, I guess.
JENNIFER MARIE GONZALEZ: Yeah, challenging in a good way, and esoteric and exciting.
What are you looking forward to in terms of the industry and/or your agency?
JENNIFER MARIE GONZALEZ: Industry trends are interesting to talk about, and content saturation is a big one right now, obviously because of the internet and increased accessibility. I think that usually when this happens, you can expect that the pendulum will swing back a bit. I think things might start to get a little bit quieter on the cool end, people might get off the internet a little bit, maybe keep a lower social media profile, and I think that a little enigma and exclusivity will be very sexy again very soon.
MARIO HUGO GONZALEZ: We’re interested in how being less integrated online, or not having a crazy social profile, may force brands to challenge some of those conventions and create things that are a little bit more experiential, or a bit more meaningful. Making things that aren’t just pretty for the sake of sharing.
JENNIFER MARIE GONZALEZ: As for the agency, we’re always interested in a lot of variety, and we’ve really embraced diversity in terms of the media of our projects. This year will be exciting. In addition to relaunching the CFDA, Bird, and Leon Max, we’re currently working with Nike on the creative direction of their Olympic campaign. We’re launching two new branch entities. One, called Mister & Missus, is really focused on personal, collaborative film projects. And the second is a video game studio called Play Pretend. Our first game has actually been in development for several years and will be launching very soon.
MARIO HUGO GONZALEZ: It’s been a ridiculous labor of love.
JENNIFER MARIE GONZALEZ: These two projects, both Play Pretend and Mister & Missus, are underneath the Hugo & Marie agency umbrella and are really representative of how we aim to approach technology and art. And they’re both ‘weird’.
Well, I’ve enjoyed speaking to the Mister & Missus of Hugo and Marie and looking forward to those games and more.
JENNIFER MARIE GONZALEZ: We enjoyed speaking with you, too, thank you!
MARIO HUGO GONZALEZ: Thanks, Kenneth.