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August 21 2014

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Behind-The-Scenesters: Hosanna Marshall

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Designers design. Photographers photograph. Models model. That much—in broad strokes, at least—is clear. But what about the artists, technicians, and industry insiders, often unpublicized and underappreciated, who help to get clothes and accessories made and shown? Call them Behind-the-Scenesters: people who shape our experience of fashion but never take a bow on the catwalk or strike a pose for the camera. Without them—from patternmakers to production designers—the show wouldn’t go on. And in our recurring series, Style.com sits down with a few of these pros to find out, basically, what they do.

We’re willing to bet you’ve never heard of Hosanna Marshall (left), art buyer at Saatchi & Saatchi. In fact, chances are you’ve never heard of Marshall’s job title. (Art buyer? What?) But if you’re any kind of media creative—photographer, illustrator, set designer, stylist—and you like the idea of paying your rent with your talent, then Marshall is definitely someone who ought to be on your radar. As Saatchi’s art buyer, Marshall assembles and hires the creative teams who execute the firm’s campaigns, for clients as diverse as Tide and JCPenney. Here, Marshall talks to Style.com about the business behind the art, the art behind the business, and finding herself lost down the rabbit hole—in a good way.

So, Hosanna: In one sentence, what do you do?
I work with art directors here at the agency to connect creatives with our clients. Essentially, I bring in the talent.

How did you get into doing what you do?
I started out as an account manager at a large advertising agency, which was a good introduction to the industry because that job kind of touches everything. But my interests were always a little more directed toward the creative end of things, and after a little while, I sidetracked into interior design. When I came back to advertising, I knew I wanted a position where I could apply my creativity, and Art Buyer had the right mix of the creative and curatorial, and the business-y and logistical. I like being a conduit between the art world and the client world.

How does that work, exactly?
Well, obviously we have these big clients, and they have marketing objectives. Our creatives come up with strategies to address those objectives, and then I sit down with the art directors to figure out, you know, how do we actually bring this to life? Part of my job is just knowing who’s out there in the arts community, working in various mediums. I’ve got to put together that list of candidates for each job—all the photographers we’re going to consider, for instance. But there’s a certain amount of interpretation that goes into that, which I appreciate. The process isn’t as simple as someone telling me, “We need X,” and then I go find X. It’s much more of a collaboration.

You must have a staggeringly huge Rolodex in your head. I mean, it’s one thing to have a general sense of which photographers are out there, working, though even that seems like a daunting amount of information now that I say it. But then you’ve got to know about all the other people involved in a shoot, too.
Some of that is straightforward production, which is also part of my job. And I do hire outside producers, as well. But a lot of the talent discovery comes down to, when I like someone’s work, I want to understand the elements that went into it. Usually photographers have teams they like to work with—lighting people, stylists—and often those people have teams, too. That’s one of the reasons I enjoy doing photo research so much; it winds up being an endless odyssey. You start looking at the credits, and wind up down the rabbit hole. And with the Internet, it’s really easy to keep going and keep seeing more. You can see what’s going on in Paris, in Tokyo. You don’t have to wait for someone to bring in his book.

That said, I imagine you’re relatively inundated by portfolios.
True. It can be overwhelming, especially on a day when I’m not seeing anything particularly inspiring. But I have to keep my eyes open; I really do believe the talent can come from anywhere. I don’t think every talented person is repped by a name agency. I might meet someone at a dinner party, or stumble onto interesting work at a hole-in-the-wall gallery. I also really love to travel, and one of the ways I like to immerse myself in a new place is by tapping into the art scene wherever I am. And that’s certainly introduced me to a lot of talent I never would have encountered otherwise. This is one of those jobs where you just have to keep logging stuff, and filing things away.

Do you look to fashion very much?
Of course. Before I was at Saatchi, actually, I mainly worked with fashion clients. John Varvatos, A Peace Treaty, Le Sportsac. I like to keep my eye on what the fashion shooters are up to.

I’m asking in part because I think people have the perception that fashion talent is only applicable to fashion campaigns. But, it’s like, there are ads for Citibank and Microsoft that require, say, stylists or illustrators.
The Tide campaign is like that. It’s actually a really interesting campaign, from a fashion perspective, because Tide isn’t a fashion brand but the product is all about clothes. So it touches personal style. We have a campaign out—”Style is an option. Clean is not”—that sits right at that intersection. We’re starting a project, within that campaign, where we’re going to be working with a lot of great photographers from the fashion world. And it’s a really interesting brief for a stylist, because Tide is the ultimate truth-in-advertising product. The stylists are going to have to use all machine-washable clothing. I don’t know about you, but I’m always surprised by what’s machine-washable and what isn’t.

On the other hand, you also work with JCPenney, and the fashion connection there is obvious. How is your hiring process different from, say, a magazine editor’s hiring process?
Well, for starters, an ad shoot is a big, big production. There are a lot of people on set—the crew, of course, but also client representatives, people from the agency, and so on. I need to know that the photographer I’m hiring can handle that environment, that he’s not someone who can only create a great image on a closed set. And then there’s the very obvious difference of, I want the talent to shine, but it needs to shine for the client. You can create the most genius image in the world, but if it’s at odds with the brief, with the client’s objectives, as far as we’re concerned it’s worthless. Finally, they have to be able to adjust, take the feedback. Maybe that’s true at magazines, too; my guess is, that applies everywhere.

Are you the person who delivers the feedback?
That’s me. When someone delivers work, usually the art director and I will sit down and evaluate and figure out what is and isn’t working. Then I go back to the talent and give the direction. From the art world’s perspective, I’m the face of the agency.

Are there people whose work you love that you just can’t employ?
Well, never say never. I do have that list in my head, of people where I’m just waiting for the right job to come along. I’m not ultra-possessive of that information; I want people to work and I make recommendations all the time.

What’s a typical day like for you?
I’m usually working a few different projects at once, all at different stages. Today, for example, I’m doing photo research for one project, and on another, I’m at the point where I’m ready to award the job. So I have to make that offer. After that, I’ll negotiate the rate and handle the contract, and we’ll be moving into location scouting, model casting, hiring the production company, that kind of thing. I have lots of meetings, like everyone else has meetings. Weekends I usually try to hit some galleries or a museum show. I’m always looking for stimulus.

How much of yourself do you see in your work, in the finished product?
I bring my natural affinities to the table. The passion for travel, for instance—I use that a ton. I’ve introduced a lot of global talent to our roster. Maybe my biggest contribution is that I’m incredibly open-minded. I’ll be heading home one day, see some street art on a wall, and snap it with my iPhone. The clients’ briefs are always evolving, and the only way I can be prepared for the next idea is by keeping my eyes open and looking at everything.

Photo: Kwesi Abbensetts

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