While many may claim to understand the art of the deal, Los Angles-based Founder and President of Stardust Brands, Victoria Brynner, has become fashion’s go-to as the real dealmaker bridging talent and fashion houses for over 25 years. Born into the worlds of film and fashion, the daughter of acting icon Yul Brynner, has gone onto casting global icons and Hollywood talent in iconic advertising campaigns for clients including Louis Vuitton, Dior, Valentino, Versace, H&M, Lancôme, Chanel and many more. The Impression’s Kenneth Richard sat with fashion’s ultimate dealmaker to learn how she got her start, growing an agency from scratch, and how the world of social is impacting deals today.
Kenneth Richard: Victoria, thanks for sitting to chat with us about your journey. How did it all begin and when did you know it was time to found Stardust Brands? Victoria Brynner: For many years I shot and then produced for the best photographers in the world – there were only a handful of print production companies then and hardly any in LA.
I love architecture and LA. So it was only natural that I started scouting and searching to set the tone for fashion ad campaigns. We did some memorable ones, Valentino at the Stahl House, Versace by Meisel, and a ton of Annie Leibovitz shoots. One thing led to another and I needed even more of a creative outlet, so I started casting celebrities for some of my European clients. That grew quickly and soon needed structure and thus Stardust was born.
Kenneth Richard: Those early days must have been a challenge as your agency was the first and first are always tough. How did you explain to people and brands what you could do for them? Victoria Brynner:I had some communication advantages that really helped at the beginning. My biggest advantage was being of dual cultures, having a European upbringing and an American way of working. Plus speaking four languages. I also had a vast knowledge and experience in being part of the creation of major beauty and fashion campaigns. Having been trained by being on set with the most talented photographers, art directors, and fashion editors. In short, I spoke the same language and understood what people were looking for. The biggest challenge was getting clients to take risks in casting new talent – people I believed in.
Kenneth Richard: Like who? Victoria Brynner: I got H&M to do their first US campaign with independent unknows like Gary Oldman, Tim Roth, Benicio Del Toro, and Chloe Sevigny.
Kenneth Richard: Great bets. Like a Tarantino/Jarmusch dream cast. Did that pay off? Victoria Brynner: What it did is show clients that they can trust suggestions and that being in LA and close to the film and music industries you have insight and also an eye for emerging talent. Today brands are more open to listening as they have other metrics to go by like social media.
Kenneth Richard: What were some of the biggest hurdles in building the agency in those first 10 years? Victoria Brynner: The biggest hurdle for me was to figure out the size of the business and my role in it. How to remain the face of the business, the main point of contact and still be creative and bring my clients the best. It was also important to show clients that things that may have appeared simple took time, trust, good relationships and knowledge and that casting a celebrity was not like casting a model.
Kenneth Richard: So let’s dive into that. What are some of the common misperceptions that people have when retaining celebrity talent? Victoria Brynner: Some CEOs like the idea of being in touch with talent directly and think that friendships will make the deal, however, the business deal points need to be set in place with the celebrities teams before that can happen.
Some clients think that if they pay they can get anything from the celebrity which isn’t true. You get what you pay for and nothing more. Nowadays celebrities are big business for brands and vice versa. Deals take a tremendous amount of time and clients never think it will and often the contracts get signed right before the shoot.
Kenneth Richard: What are things celebrities look for that brands could take into consideration to make the process easier? Victoria Brynner: Celebrities look at the number of work days, the number of social media posts required, the quality of the creative and the brand. Celebrities today are most interested in multiple year deals, also thanks to social media they are developing their own storytelling skills which brands can benefit from by engaging in the process.
Kenneth Richard: You also represent creative talent. How did that come about and what does the agency focus on? Victoria Brynner: I retained some of my passion for helping create content. A few years ago I took on managing visual artists. I worked with the artists The Haas Brothers and helped them grow by getting them their first commercial deals and by connecting them with people in design and art. I love crafting a direction and helping people grow, and love making the deal!
Kenneth Richard: And we love a deal maker. So, how has the business changed in the last few years? Victoria Brynner: The importance of teaming up with a celebrity has increased tremendously with the need for storytelling. Plus with the change in media consumption brands are seeking to connect not only with their customers but ally with the celebrities to tap into theirs.
Kenneth Richard: And at times that audience is larger than that of media firms. So let’s dive a little deeper, how has digital specifically impacted what you do? Victoria Brynner: When I do casting several elements now come into play that weren’t at play previously. As I work a lot with beauty, fashion and luxury brands we have added the social media following to the search criteria. Brands are savvy as to the audience of the talent, their engagement, territories, and types of followers. The reputation of the talent and negative press is also scrutinized.
Kenneth Richard: How hard is it to layer on social in the brand contractual relationship for most celebrities these days? Are most open to it, or protective of that audience? Victoria Brynner: Celebrities are protective of the narrative of their social media – paid posts must be indicated as such and the audience is savvy and mostly attracted to authenticity. Celebrities who do agree to post are most successful when the brand gives them creative freedom so the posts match the celebrities visuals and content. The product will sell and get noticed if the association is genuine and if the celebrity actually uses it. If the brands insist on very specific content the celebrity will limit the number of agreed posts.
Kenneth Richard: Where do you see the industry heading in the next several years? Victoria Brynner: I think that storytelling and engaging content in large quantities will be needed to maintain and gain new customers. The importance of the right image and tone and the right faces will continue. Consumers are smart, they know what and who is authentic and when brands speak their truth that is when they gain.
Kenneth Richard: What are you looking forward to doing with the agency? Victoria Brynner: I look forward to partnering with brands and agencies to help them craft and populate marketing and advertising campaigns.
We recently did a very interesting casting for a digital strategy for a lifestyle brand. We suggested a very diverse group of talent; actors, singers, artists, creatives, as well as content creators. We hope to be able to grow our support for our existing and new clients with a wider offering and participate in their creative direction. We are also looking closely at all the amazing new brands emerging in LA to add to our client list.
But on a personal note, I very much look forward to the summer and visiting Oregon and Europe, always a good time to recharge
Kenneth Richard: Glad you are getting a little quiet time. Thanks for sitting to share with us. Looking forward to seeing your stars continue to align. Victoria Brynner: Thank you.