Not all artist-brand collaborations are created equal.
The best projects generate excitement from all parties involved: the artist, the brand and the customer. But how do you get there?
ICNCLST cofounder Sky Gellatly has built an agency around orchestrating buzzy collaborations between artists and brands, working with both sides to execute campaigns, strategy and product design. Recent projects include a capsule collection with the U.S. Soccer organization and three streetwear brands, and a New York brand campaign for Tommy Hilfiger shot by Shaniqwa Jarvis.
Linkups are often unexpected — Josh Vides and Fendi, Futura and megagroup BTS, illustrator Filip Pagowski and the NBA — or exclusive, as in the case of a recent one-off LiveWire motorcycle painted by Eric Haze to mark the company’s NYSE debut.
“I’m always thinking, what’s the headline, or how is this gonna be written about?” says Gellatly from the ICNCLST office in Manhattan’s TriBeCa. “Because for the longest time, I was the one getting press releases, seeing through a lot of the smoke and mirrors.”
Gellatly, originally from Poughkeepsie in New York’s Hudson Valley, established ICNCLST with cofounder Nikle Guzijan six years ago, the culmination of many years working at the intersection of editorial and marketing. He was one of the earliest employees at Complex, and went on to work in editorial for MTV and Details magazine. He also headed up marketing at Hypebeast, served as the tour DJ for Lupe Fiasco, and led Nike’s social strategy while a director with early influencer marketing agency Team Epiphany. Everything traces back to the relationships he’s built.
Earlier in his career, Gellatly connected with photographer 13thWitness, aka Timothy McGurr, and together they produced music videos for artists like John Mayer, the Deftones and Cypress Hill, and collaborated on social media content for Nike in the early days of Instagram. Gellatly shares an accountant with another McGurr: Lenny, the artist best known as Futura, and father of 13thWitness.
Seeing the success of the business Gellatly had built with his son, their accountant recommended that Futura reach out. Since then, ICNCLST and Futura have produced collaborations with the likes of Louis Vuitton, the New York Mets, Beats by Dre, Commes des Garcons and Noguchi.
Many of those items decorate the ICNCLST office, a lofty space that’s immaculately curated. Even the room’s scent, lovely and calming, feels like it was carefully chosen. There’s art and ephemera from collaborators, including Andre Saraiva, Kaws, Nina Chanel Abney, Krink, and Takashi Murakami; a rack of clothing hanging from the ceiling contains a Nigo x Louis Vuitton denim jacket and Off-White x Futura blazer. Stadium seating, which leads up to a product and book gallery, has been used to host events, including a Free Arts NYC talk with Marc Jacobs and Futura earlier this year; Gellatly recently joined the Free Arts NYC board.
ICNCLST works with artists who have an established fine art practice and presence in the market, and are interested in working in the brand space strategically. It’s difficult to define the sort of artist the agency works with, except they all embody a sense of downtown clout with the creative relevance to match. On the artist-client side, Gellatly is able to make brand introductions and track down opportunities, whether it’s Abney wanting to create a shoe with Nike or helping Futura link up with the Mets.
“Sometimes it’s just storytelling around who they are as people versus their artist persona,” he says. “You’ve seen Futura’s paintings; you wouldn’t know that he’s a baseball fanatic. So of the projects we’ve done the last couple years — with Comme des Garçons, Louis Vuitton — he was most psyched about throwing the first pitch at a Mets game to his son and making a Bobblehead with the Mets, because he’s a diehard Mets fan.”
On the brand side, the work often involves sussing out why the company wants to work with artists in the first place.
“Very often they don’t have the criteria, even though they want to do it,” says Gellatly. “So it’s like, OK, let’s do some exploration around other than it being a zeitgeist-y thing. Why from a creative and a business perspective are you going to do this? And then we’ll work with the brand to do the whom and the how on what artists you can work with.”
ICNCLST has a full slate of projects during Art Basel Miami Beach, including programming and products around Abney’s solo ICA exhibition, a listening room and private dinner collaboration with Devon Turnbull and Don Julio 1942, and an activation with London, England-based phone tech company Nothing.
The agency has come a long way since its first time at the fair in 2015, when Gellatly and his business partner arrived in Miami, Florida, with one client and lots of ideas.
“I remember us sitting at a Starbucks in South Beach right off Ocean Avenue,” Gellalty says. “Like, OK — we’re here. That’s pretty much it. It was one of those, wow, this sounds like a good idea what we’re trying to do, but it was a long journey to get there, you know? But now, I feel like we’ve come into our own.”