NEW YORK — “The era of the supermodel is really coming to an end. It won’t happen again unless there’s a celebrity backlash,” said James Grant, founder and partner in Starworks, a celebrity casting agency here.
As stars have usurped models on magazine covers and in ad campaigns, the competition to sign up the hottest celebrity has become more intense than ever. A number of companies and fashion brands are turning to Starworks, based at 5 Crosby Street here, to help them wade through the celebrity jungle.
This story first appeared in the August 8, 2003 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Grant and his wife, Alana Varel, founded Starworks two-and-a-half years ago. Working with such magazines as Harper’s Bazaar, V, Arena Hommes Plus, L’Uomo Vogue, i-D, Teen Vogue and Lucky, as well as brands such as Hugo Boss, David Yurman, Calvin Klein, Lee, Levi Strauss & Co., Tommy Hilfiger and Ermenegildo Zegna, Starworks capitalizes on its Hollywood connections and does all the legwork to secure celebrities and arrange photo shoots for ad campaigns and magazine covers.
Among the celebrities it has hired for clients are Adrien Brody for Zegna; Iman for H&M; Lucy Liu for Kookai; Ludacris for Reebok, and Mike Pitt for David Yurman. As for its magazine work, it has brokered all the celebrity covers for Harper’s Bazaar since May 2001, including such recent covergirls as Debra Messing, Madonna and Jennifer Connelly, as well as Beyoncé for V; Mandy Moore for Lucky; Macaulay Culkin for The Face; Ed Norton for L’Uomo Vogue; Chloë Sevigny for i-D Magazine, and Lucy Liu for German GQ.
Starworks also booked the celebrities for Teen Vogue’s upcoming October/November celebrity-oriented issue. “With a magazine like Teen Vogue, we’ll do the inside pages, too,” said Varel.
Grant said one of his policies is that he won’t represent competing magazines. He said a celebrity he would book for L’Uomo Vogue wouldn’t want to appear on the cover of Lucky, and vice versa. Lately, he’s seen that some magazines aren’t hiring entertainment editors or special projects editors, but are outsourcing the process.
In booking celebrities for ad campaigns, Starworks collects a casting fee and a percentage of the fee paid the talent. That fee, which ranges from 10 to 20 percent, is in addition to, and separate from, the actor’s payment, said Grant. Starworks works on a monthly retainer basis with the magazines. Grant explained that Starworks is paid as though it’s an in-house member of the team at each magazine. Starworks even appears on the magazine’s masthead. Grant said each of the magazines pays different monthly retainers depending on the size of the magazine, and he wouldn’t divulge the fee. However, he said that the retainer is less than a magazine would pay an in-house entertainment or special projects editor since there are no medical benefits.
“We’re the liaison between the celebrity and the magazine and handle the shoot, the hair and makeup the logistics, and arranging for the interview,” said Grant.
For a magazine client, he said, “Our job is to deliver a person every month.” Sometimes, the request is for up-and-coming actors, such as one it cast for a September issue of The New York Times Magazine, while other magazines are looking for more established celebrities. Starworks also works with photographers such as Steven Klein and Peter Lindbergh in booking stars for ad campaigns they are shooting.
Grant explained that over the past eight years, there’s been a sea change in the use of celebrities for magazine covers and ad campaigns. In 1995, almost all the fashion magazines featured models on their covers every month, he said, while today they feature mainly celebrities.
Additionally, Grant noted that more and more brands, such as Louis Vuitton, Versace, Candie’s, Zegna and Gap, are featuring celebrities in their advertising campaigns. When used properly, the Starworks team believes celebrities provide a powerful branding tool. Previously, celebrities would only agree to do an ad campaign if it ran in Europe or Japan and not in the U.S. Appearing in U.S. ad campaigns was seen as tacky.
Now, an increasing number of ad agencies are turning to Starworks for help in lining up the hottest stars.
“We use them all the time,” said David Lipman, chairman and creative director of Lipman, a New York-based ad agency. “They’re great at casting celebrities. They have this knack for knowing who’s who.” He said he’s used them for such clients as Earl Jean and Zegna.
In fact, for its Zegna campaign, Starworks booked Adrien Brody months before “The Pianist” was shown in Cannes.
“They have a good feel for what’s going on in the world. They do a good job. They’re cool and they have a sense of the next six months to a year. A lot of it is a leap of faith. For me, it’s a great synergy,” said Lipman.
Doug Lloyd, owner of Lloyd & Co., the New York-based ad agency, has worked a lot with Starworks in his additional role as creative director of Arena Hommes Plus, the men’s fashion magazine.
“They’re young, in touch with the up and coming next wave of celebrities and more established ones. They have good connections with the publicists and the managers,” he said. Starworks helped them sign up a whole portfolio of young actors for a shoot they did for Arena Hommes Plus with Terry Richardson, said Lloyd.
Allison Oleskey, a key member of the Starworks team, had previously been special projects editor at Harper’s Bazaar before joining Starworks in January. She brought the Bazaar account with her and continues to handle all celebrity bookings for the magazine’s covers. She noted that most of the fashion magazines want to use the same big celebrities. Oleskey’s job is to figure out who are the up-and-comers, who will be on people’s radar in six months’ time, and which actresses will be the biggest box-office draws over the next 12 months. Not to mention, which actresses look best in the clothes.