Hollywood talent agency CAA — which represents Tom Ford, Tommy Hilfiger, Kerby Jean-Raymond, Heidi Klum, Cindy Crawford, Nick Knight, Annie Leibovitz and a number of other designers, models, photographers and influencers, in addition to top entertainment talent such as Beyoncé, Brad Pitt and Reese Witherspoon — has formed a global strategic partnership with fashion public relations and marketing firm KCD.
Dubbed CAA x KCD, the venture will explore business opportunities in editorial and runway, endorsements, licensing, product placement and entertainment.
“KCD is the vascular system of the fashion business, and for us, this is a way to bring what we have into the heart of that business, and find things that we can do together that are grounded in the respective client lists we have,” said Christian Carino, head of CAA Fashion.
With offices in New York, Paris, London and Los Angeles, KCD represents a range of clients in fashion, design and tech, including Amazon, the British Fashion Council, the CFDA Awards, Farfetch, Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Vogue.
“It’s a great relationship of mutual respect,” Rachna Shah, partner and managing director of KCD, said of CAA, noting that the late KCD cofounding partner Ed Filipowski was very close to CAA partner Bryan Lourd, and that the two agencies have come together on many projects in the past, including Ford’s star-studded, L.A. runway show on Oscars weekend in February.
Although the CAA x KCD alliance has been in the works since last year, the pandemic and ensuing retail bankruptcies have put more urgency on the need to reinvent how fashion is shown, marketed and sold, and placed more of an emphasis on creating compelling content — film, music and otherwise, all areas in which CAA has expertise and resources.
“As challenging as the time is because of COVID, it’s the most fruitful opportunity anyone could have to reimagine and reinvent some of these businesses,” said Carino. “One of the areas is understanding the new retail landscape from a designer perspective, because the core of their distribution has been cut off at the head.”
“In the past, a client was doing a project, CAA was involved in getting people on board, and KCD was involved from a press or event standpoint, but we weren’t necessarily conceiving of the project together and bringing it to others,” said Shah. “Brands are all looking to get to new audiences now; they can’t rely on just the people who are following them, that’s not enough right now. So finding a new path forward and a new audience to become potential customers is a huge part of our mission.”
“If we do it right, we’re going to create a unified ecosystem for this business that was traditionally separated,” Carino added, hinting at how they hope to marry fashion commerce and content. (Perhaps by using a platform like Amazon, which has its hands in both? Or making more sophisticated fashion product placement deals?)
“With everything going on in the world right now, it’s not just about let’s get this dress on someone who looks great on the red carpet. People are looking for authenticity, a genuine connection between personality and brand. It’s not superficial anymore, it’s about how do we really grow our brands and better their value,” said Shah.
For years, IMG has been the Hollywood talent agency making the most noise in fashion, owning and operating fashion weeks in New York, Sydney and elsewhere, acquiring styling agency The Wall Group, signing a roster of children of celebrities to its modeling division, and making licensing deals for the likes of the Gap, Shinola, Cosmopolitan magazine and Fortnite. (IMG is a subsidiary of Endeavor, which also produces and distributes sports and entertainment media, and is heavily involved in licensing.)
But in recent months, CAA has also been quietly building its fashion division, signing designers and models including Prabal Gurung and Alessandra Ambrosio away from its rival IMG (which is more events-leveraged than CAA) and trying to create synergies between fashion and entertainment.
Both agencies have suffered significant layoffs during the pandemic, with events and Hollywood production almost entirely shut down since March putting new emphasis on developing new revenue streams.
Shah and Carino will lead the CAA x KCD venture, along with KCD’s Jarrad Serafine-Clark, partner of creative services, and Laura Birbrower, senior vice president of fashion services; CAA agents Josh Otten and Alex Varga. Although KCD has long had relationships with all of the talent agencies, it has never entered into a business opportunity with any of them until now.
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