Interview with an Agency: Jennifer and Mario of Hugo & Marie

Hugo&Marie_ color_©StevenBrahms_small©Steven Brahms

Creative agency and artist managers Hugo & Marie is run by Jennifer Marie Gonzalez, who works as the representative and producer, along with her husband and partner Mario Hugo Gonzalez, who works as the agency’s Creative Director. Together they have carved out a sector of the design world, focusing on their carefully curated list of illustrators and designers. Together hey’ve worked with clients like Nowness, Stella McCartney, and Dolce & Gabbana to Microsoft, Wired Magazine and Converse.

Their dedication to the whole product has seen them work, direct, and collaborate on some incredible projects. At times they come across more as fine artists than commercial designers, which they say is an important part of their practice as well as for creatives as a whole. It’s through this process that they have become more than just a creative agency, they’ve situated themselves almost as a brand taking great care of every aspect – so much so that I think it’s fair to say companies seek them out for that “Hugo & Marie look.”

I spoke to them Jennifer and Mario to get an insight into the work they both do and how Hugo & Marie came to be.

hm_hishamakirabharoocha_sephora_fullSephora Brooklyn store opening campaign by Hisham Akira Bharoocha

Firstly, can you explain your roles within Hugo & Marie and how you came to set up the agency?

Jennifer: I’m a founding partner and the business director of the agency. Mario and I started Hugo & Marie about five years ago as a way to facilitate commercial art production for talented friends we wanted to work with.

Mario: I’d been working in design and illustration, and Jen was in fashion, but we saw a lot of overlap in the way we think about things. I think I am like a lot of creatives – I am really passionate about the work, and I was ambivalent about outside representation. Jennifer and I (Marie is her middle name and Hugo is mine) were interested in seeing if there were ways to improve the nature of the artist/agent/client relationship.

We wanted to see if we could help artists reach new audiences, studios, clients… and then to scale. I felt like it would be nice to start an agency that did more than the traditional agency – our team works in traditional roles such as attaching artists to commissions and brand partnerships, negotiating contract terms, usage, invoicing – but we are also here to assist with production, collaborate, and build teams around larger projects as they grow.

What is your experience with formal education? Did you both study illustration/design or was the creative industry something you found yourself sucked in to?

Jennifer: I studied fashion design at Parsons in Manhattan, so design has been an integral part of my life for years. Art, design, fashion, music, film, have each had a big impact on my professional aspirations and how I want to spend my time.

Mario: I studied first at Boston College, got within a couple credits of a fine arts major, then happened upon the first Semi-Permanent conference. I was already a bit acquainted with the design world – I’d been following James Patterson at Presstube, Jemma Gura at Prate, Mike Young at Designgrafik – I was pretty obsessed with the community. Seeing Rinzen, Lee Meisenheimer, and Deanne Cheuk (whom we now have the pleasure of representing) all speak – this really sealed the deal for me. I came back to the States, moved to New York, switched schools to Pratt, and majored in art direction in communication design.

hm_deannecheuk_colehaan_wander_fullSummer Wander campaign lettering for Cole Haan by Deanne Cheuk

Being an agent seems like a relatively unknown career path to me, if that makes sense. It’s not something I imagine many knowing how to get into. What was the biggest hurdle you faced with Hugo & Marie?

Jennifer: You’re right, in that there aren’t too many education programs for careers as agents. It tends to start as a producer or PR role for someone that has a strong sense for business. My background is in fashion design; so from a practical perspective I know about processes, work cycles, and what is required to execute a project. After negotiating a few contracts, I quickly realized my passion is in making art happen rather than making it myself. There are a thousand of new hurdles I face every year as we grow. The tallest hurdle was knowing how to define our ways of doing things versus industry standards.

That’s really interesting, my agent said the same thing – that he preferred the business behind the creative than the creativity itself. Would you have chosen a different education route had you known this was what you were going to being doing?

Jennifer: I would have taken more business specific classes. I have generally found design school and art education really lacking in business training and more practical skills to apply in a professional context. Most of my work is very industry specific so it’s hard to know if I would have chosen a different educational path. At the end of the day, I love design and creativity, and I appreciate the education I’ve had in fashion because it’s quietly colored my preferences and our selection of artists.

hm_mario_quottum_fullQuottom Magazine spread by Mario Hugo

I’m interested to know how you built up your enviable list of clients during your five or so years in business? Had either of you had any experience with the roles of being a representative?

Mario: I’m not really sure – we really believe in the business and the work our artists create. Sometimes if you believe in your work and show some heart, clients will find you. And we’re really pleased with the clients that have reached out – flattered, really. We aren’t excessively promotional, we don’t cold call clients because it doesn’t work. We try and connect with people we respect personally, do book showings based on a mutuality with a studio or client, and we try to connect artists with projects that are appropriate for their respective careers. But honestly, there really isn’t anything more valuable than word of mouth in this type of business, and I think we have a good rapport with a lot of our clients because we’re collaborative and we really believe in the end product – the site, the album sleeve, whatever that goal might be.

Jennifer: I second Mario in saying that I feel incredibly fortunate to work with the clients we do. There is a lot of hard work in building our client list, but a healthy dose of luck too.

Can you take us through the process from your end of the work of a client brief?

Mario: Clients tend to contact us either of two ways. A studio, agency, or company is writing us to work specifically with an artist on a project – this might be for Micah Lidberg, Deanne Cheuk, one of the artists – I’m represented by the agency as well – and the needs are pretty defined or pretty open depending on the brief. Additionally, someone may be contacting us about broader project curation or creative direction needs – and this brief might be, for instance, with a fashion label looking for a new e-commerce site build, a label looking for a music video, etc.

Jennifer: The brief usually comes after a healthy dialogue about goals, function, purpose, intent, etc. for each project. My role as an agent is to clarify all terms, details, creative reference, execution requirements, timeline parameters, etc. and distill a clear picture for the commissioned creative. My other role, as a producer, is to assign responsibilities and delegate creative production tasks, ensure Mario and our team here is properly briefed on all details, and then oversee each step, deliver and present all material to our clients. We work extensively in both print and digital media, so the production process changes constantly to accommodate what we’re making.

PrintAn Ananas album packaging by MVM

Recently I’ve noticed a shift in illustrators crossings over into the domain of art, with solo shows and forays in products, something that I hope to be able to do one day. Your roster of creatives seem to embody this move – do you see this as a continuing trend with talent and clients alike?

Jennifer: It does seem to be becoming more common, but it has been the case longer than we’ve run the business – perhaps it is fair to say fine artists are working more commercially in art direction and illustration as well.

Mario: Everyone on the Hugo & Marie roster exhibits – there is a cynicism that surrounds the word “creatives,” but we refer to our artists this way because it encapsulates any number of different endeavors. Hisham Akira Bharoocha is an artist, illustrator, and musician. I think the Internet is equal parts good and bad, but it has certainly helped young creatives distribute work and attract alternative audiences. Careers seem a lot less black and white than they were a decade ago. Why shouldn’t artists just express themselves however they’d like – art, direction, design or music?

Jennifer: From my perspective exhibitions help fuel productivity and contribute to broader artist recognition – which is generally great for growth, both personal and commercial. Artists put in the effort to explore a new medium or technique and get authentic work out into the world that isn’t simply tied to a brief.

I always finish off with this question – what’s been the most surprising thing you’ve learnt during your time as Agents, Producers and Artists?

Jennifer: Nothing is ever as easy as it seems!

Mario: I’m not really an agent or producer, but I’d have to agree.

December 4, 2013 / By