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CAA Out to Grow Repping of Designers

Hollywood powerhouse Creative Artists Agency is driving deeper into the fashion industry.

LOS ANGELES — Hollywood powerhouse Creative Artists Agency is driving deeper into the fashion industry.

This story first appeared in the September 19, 2011 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

After hiring a key executive from Ford Models and Modelinia, the Los Angeles-based talent agency is snapping up Rag & Bone’s David Neville and Marcus Wainwright, Derek Lam, Alessandra Ambrosio, blogger Bryanboy and other fashion names as new clients.

Mitch Grossbach, a former senior vice president at Ford Models and chief revenue officer at Modelinia, joined CAA in January in a newly created position to build CAA’s fashion business. In the past, CAA has represented a handful of established fashion designers such as Michael Kors and helped movie stars land beauty deals. Now it’s being more proactive and deliberate in scouting emerging fashion talent and growing their brands and businesses.

“We’re willing to work with, frankly, anyone who’s in the fashion space, whether that’s a designer or a stylist or a hairstylist or a personality or a blogger or an influencer,” Grossbach said. “We’ve represented talent in motion pictures, television, sports, music and theater. There’s no reason why we couldn’t apply our capability to the most talented and creative people in fashion and beauty. It’s a logical extension of what we’re doing in other areas.”

Over the past nine months, CAA has quietly signed new clients in fashion and beauty. Its current roster numbers less than 100. In addition to Lam, Ambrosio, Neville, Wainwright and Yambao, CAA has picked up stylist Kate Young; designers Catherine Malandrino, Richard Chai, Rebecca Minkoff and Alejandro Ingelmo, and model Amber Valletta.

CAA’s move into fashion underscores how talent agencies must diversify and look for growth outside of their traditional strongholds in movies, television and music. For instance, as previously reported by WWD, International Creative Management signed contracts with New York magazine and The Atlantic to help formalize the process of turning stories into films or TV shows. APA, which represents Betty White and other stars, recently signed swimwear designer Rod Beattie.

CAA is quick to clarify that it’s not going to act as a modeling agency like rival IMG, which is already entrenched in the fashion industry as the organizer of New York’s Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week. Nor will CAA duplicate the jobs that its clients’ publicists and managers do.

Over the past two years, CAA has made serious inroads into fashion. Most recently it has signed on to represent Made, the downtown New York fashion show venue that was previously called MAC & Milk. Although Made is a direct competitor to IMG’s New York Fashion Week at Lincoln Center, CAA doesn’t want to get into managing fashion shows through Made. Instead, it seeks to grow Made through finding brand sponsors, increasing its exposure on TV and other efforts.

In 2009, it partnered with private equity firm Irving Place Capital to create Star Avenue Capital LLC, a lifestyle-focused private equity firm. In February 2010, Star Avenue acquired a majority stake in premium denim label J Brand in a deal said to be valued at more than $50 million. This past July, CAA was part of the group of 20 investors, led by industry veteran Andrew Rosen and financier John Howard, to invest between $10 million and $20 million for a minority share in Proenza Schouler.

Grossbach said financing is one way CAA can help fashion and beauty clients. In addition to Star Avenue Capital, CAA also works with Evolution Media Capital, an investment bank specializing in the media and sports industries, which was formed in partnership by CAA and former Merrill Lynch bankers. Grossbach also said CAA can boost its clients’ presence on television and digital media and connect them to blue-chip corporations for endorsements or marketing collaborations. Moreover, it can oversee business developments, such as licensing and launching new foreign markets.

“We’ve had many designers ask us to help them with their entry in China, Dubai or the U.K.,” Grossbach said, adding that CAA has done business in China for years and operates offices in Dubai and London.

Grossbach declined to put a monetary value on the projects that CAA is initiating for its fashion clientele. It’s trying different strategies as its clients come with various levels of brand recognition. Ambrosio, a Brazilian who’s known worldwide as a Victoria’s Secret Angel, may try to build her own lifestyle brand, whereas the young designers from New York may concentrate on increasing their media exposure.

Yambao, who’s based in the Philippines, agreed to join CAA after fielding offers from modeling and photo agencies.

“I don’t have the look for a model or what have you. I don’t have the talent for a photographer,” he said. “What I’m able to offer is my personality. That’s what people like about me.”

Many people seem to like Bryanboy.com, Yambao’s seven-year-old blog that tallies between three million and four million page views a month. Prior to becoming a CAA client, Yambao scored gigs such as styling a video for H&M’s fall 2010 collection and helping Sunglass Hut to conduct a blogger search. After signing with CAA this past spring, he’s graduated to judging a contest with Nokia and Elle magazine to find a style correspondent and rating Facebook photos in a Fashion’s Night Out contest with Diet Coke and W Hotel in New York. CAA wants to open new doors for him.

“CAA has been pushing me toward the TV side of things. For me, at least in the immediate future, it’s not something I want to get into,” Yambao said. “I want to continue the blog and hopefully in the future collaborate with a [fashion] brand that I love and hopefully bring revenue for me.”