“I, last night, slept on the floor here,” Billy Farrell explained last week in his new studio on West 20th Street. Mr. Farrell, a photographer who has just started his own agency, could do worse: The roughly rectangular space isn’t large, but it is bright and airy, with blond hardwood floors and floor-to-ceiling windows along one long wall. The atmosphere in the place is decidedly casual: Mr. Farrell wore jeans and flip-flops; one of his partners, Neil Rasmus, sat barefoot in a cozy-looking armchair. “We’ve been here pretty late, most nights,” Mr. Rasmus agreed. “And I think this space is better than any of our apartments, so–”
Mr. Farrell, Mr. Rasmus and their third partner, Joe Schildhorn, are all multiyear veterans of the Patrick McMullan event-photography empire. Anyone who attends a certain type of New York party knows that Mr. McMullan’s Web site is a first-priority morning-after destination: If he or one of his 20 or so photographers has posted a flattering photo of you, the event was a success. Until four Fridays ago, when they quit, the three partners in the new Billy Farrell Agency were among Mr. McMullan’s stars. Several years ago, he agreed to take on a one-quarter stake in their side-project wedding-photography business, Izola Weddings, which counts Julianna Marguiles among its clients.
Mr. Farrell and Mr. Rasmus said that the plans for the new agency have come together in the past few months; several factors combined to give them the push they needed. “It wasn’t really about leaving Patrick at all; it was more about doing something for ourselves,” Mr. Farrell said. “We all turned 30 this year, and at some point you have to start your own thing.” He also admitted, perhaps a bit sheepishly, that last season’s finale of Mad Men–in which a group of the show’s most prominent characters start a new independent advertising agency–provided some inspiration.
“I think it’s a little bit more like Julius Caesar, coming out of the Forum, to be quite honest,” Mr. McMullan told the Transom. “You know, ‘Et tu, Brutus?’–because Billy has been planning this for a while, and he never came to me and said, ‘Look, I’m thinking of starting my own agency.’”
“Somebody wrote that it was amiable, and I couldn’t be reached for comment,” Mr. McMullan continued, referring to an item on the new agency that appeared in the Daily News. “I mean, I have a cell phone. I can always be reached for comment.”
Since that fateful Friday, Mr. Farrell and his partners have been hard at work preparing for tomorrow’s launch. Their first party is tonight, at this summer’s trendiest hot spot–Le Bain, the rooftop pool at the Standard hotel–which they lament means they have to keep the guest list to 250. The agency will also provide the in-house photographers for the Standard during Fashion Week. They’ve nailed down several major fashion houses as clients, too, though they’re not telling which ones just yet. They have 12 jobs booked for this Friday’s sprawling Fashion’s Night Out alone.
All of these bookings, of course, bring up the question of how Mr. Farrell is planning to assemble his staff–a question he and his partners answer delicately. “We’re trying to refine our structure here,” Mr. Farrell said. Mr. Rasmus added, “Our goal is not to build up a staff of 15 photographers,” presumably leaving two words–like Patrick’s–unsaid. “We’d really rather have a small group of really good photographers.” For Fashion’s Night Out, they’ll be using freelancers they’ve trained ahead of time. “A lot of guys that have been in the industry,” Mr. Rasmus said. “Not poaching,” he continued, carefully. “But guys that we think are great.”
Those guys’ photos will appear on the agency’s brand-new Web site, also set to launch tomorrow. The beta version Mr. Farrell showed off revealed a clean, elegant design, based in Helvetica, with subtle watermarks, plenty of white space to highlight the photography and a few nifty functions unique to the site. It’s similar to patrickmcmullan.com, but just a touch less busy, and without all the built-in history of Mr. McMullan’s archives. It feels new–and that, it seems, is sort of the point.
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