PARIS — Agnès Barret has drafted a new associate for her Paris-based recruitment firm Agent Secret, and in line with her reputation for creative appointments, his profile is not what you might expect.
The headhunter has joined forces with Jean Vigneron, a 25-year-old marketing entrepreneur who already has stints at LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton and L’Oréal under his belt, in addition to founding a company offering consulting services for architects and interior designers.
Vigneron knocked on Barret’s door two years ago looking for career advice, and the two discovered that they shared a commitment to humanitarian projects that permeates their working relationships.
“It’s a professional meeting of the minds: we have the same values, so I’m very pleased to welcome Jean into the capital of Agent Secret,” Barret told WWD in a joint interview with Vigneron.
“Our firm is not like other firms. We have a very humane approach to candidates,” she added.
“I’m looking to hand over the firm, and I’ve found someone who will be able to take over Agent Secret and develop it into something greater than I did. I have no problem with that, because I know I am limited: I can do a lot with my expertise, but this world is evolving and Jean is equipped to deal with that,” she said.
When Barret founded Agent Secret in 2006, she purposely didn’t put her name on the door — an approach she traces back to the four years she spent working with reclusive Belgian designer Martin Margiela. “I don’t want to be the boss, and Jean agrees with me on this point: Everyone on our team is Agent Secret,” she said.
The firm, which has a team of five, specializes in recruiting creative talents by providing a bridge between designers and managers, based on Barret’s experience of working as collections director alongside Marc Jacobs at Louis Vuitton and Stella McCartney at Chloé, among others.
“It was quite simple, so to speak, to find people jobs and understand my clients’ needs, but now there are new jobs emerging that didn’t exist when I was working with big brands, and Jean is overseeing those,” she said. “He is already seeing clients I’ve never met, which is totally new for us.”
Vigneron said he was drawn to the firm by Barret’s reputation. “Agent Secret has never done any prospecting, called a client or advertised, and the phone just keeps on ringing,” he noted. Nonetheless, he saw room for the agency to be more open about its expertise as it prepares to expand to new regions.
“When I was offered to join the company, I saw extraordinary opportunities but also a number of challenges,” Vigneron said.
“Companies have more and more channels to candidates, turnover is faster and therefore the value of headhunters is bound to diminish. If we don’t bring real added value, if we don’t help our clients negotiate these changes, the profession of headhunter, as we know it, is destined to die, so we have to anticipate that,” he said.
Barret had always provided unofficial advice to her clients, but Agent Secret has now added consulting to its arsenal of services.
“I’ll give you a concrete example: a client comes to us and says, ‘I need to recruit my first chief experience officer,’ which is a growing field as companies focus increasingly on the customer experience. Our job, obviously, is to find the right person, despite the fact that it’s still a relatively new job,” said Vigneron.
“But it raises a connected issue: What is that person’s place in the company? In a huge firm like Louis Vuitton or Chanel, where does a chief experience officer fit in with the chief marketing officer and chief digital officer without overlapping?” he asked.
Likewise, he noted, the job of creative director has evolved rapidly since the advent of social media.
“We are getting more and more requests for artistic directors that are not only qualified from a creative point of view, but that also resonate with the company’s audience and target customers. Nowadays, we have to take into account how proficient they are with social networks,” Vigneron explained.
“The creative director is becoming an internal influencer and that is something very new. We need to anticipate the fact that going forward, the chief digital officer will work hand-in-hand with the artistic director, so we are working with our clients to prepare this profound change in the structure of companies and design studios,” he said.
To accompany these changes, Agent Secret plans to produce podcasts, in addition to hosting a series of networking events worldwide to create synergies between different professions.
“We are seeing greater cross-pollination, which is going to foster new dialogues, and we need to communicate that to our clients, not only to let them know that we are picking up these trends and can help them navigate this revolution, but also to widen our scope of activity to connected sectors,” he explained.
Open-faced and disarmingly self-assured, Vigneron said he had no difficulty securing the funds to buy into Agent Secret. He founded his first company, Second Nature, at the age of 19 in order to find work for his recently divorced mother. The company employs predominantly single mothers and has a client list that includes the Fondation Vuitton.
“Money is cheap right now, so it’s a good investment, but I believe it’s part of a wider phenomenon,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s the Macron effect, but people are paying attention to the younger generation in a way that is quite surprising.”
Vigneron said that while his entrepreneurial nature did not make him a good fit working for large groups with rigid hierarchies, he is at ease dealing with senior executives on a more level playing field.
“When you show up in front of the board of Hermès and you’re the same age as their intern, obviously, people are slightly taken aback. But once you get talking and start discussing strategy, the age barrier is totally forgotten and you end up doing extremely positive work,” he said.
“Clients really like our generational and operational duo. I think they find it reassuring, even,” Barret chimed in. “He could be my son, but he knows a part of this profession that I don’t, while I bring to the table my expertise of more than 30 years.”
While she has no plans to retire anytime soon, the recent death of her father, who was both her mentor and a partner in her business, has Barret planning her next step.
“I’m going to work with Jean for as long as he needs me, as long as I’m in shape, and in five or six years, I think I will have moved on,” she said, adding that in the next phase of her career, she would like to teach languages.
Vigneron sees his meeting with Barret as fortuitous. “What’s interesting about our duo is that we have an extremely open dialogue. It’s all about transparency and mutual respect,” he said.
“It’s been a huge change in my life because I studied marketing. I decided to turn that page, thinking that it doesn’t really matter which path you take. Maybe the more important thing is the people you have by your side, and maybe this journey is more important than the destination itself,” he concluded.