Cool Kids for Sale! A Downtown Agency Is Turning the Scion-ist Lifestyle Into a Job

Selling Blue Jeans

Last week, Ms. Antonopoulos, a former Nylon intern whose close friends include Ms. Coppola and Sage Grazer, Bryan Grazer’s kid, spent three days in Bushwick and Williamsburg shooting a European campaign for Levi’s that Mr. Bakalar negotiated the terms of. (Ms. Antonopoulos also modeled for Ryan McGinley’s “Go Forth” campaign for the denim company when she was his intern.) “Now, I can just focus on the creative side,” said Ms. Antonopoulos. “And not have to call parents’ friends, asking them for advice on how to handle fees and being my own agent.”

Ms. Antonopoulos has also directed a music video for the band the Postelles; modeled in a Club Monaco lookbook; and directed a video with Ms. Coppola for Opening Ceremony featuring Kirsten Dunst and Jason Schwartzman. (If you care to keep up: Gia is Francis Ford Coppola’s granddaughter, making Jason Schwartzman her cousin. We think!)

Asked whether she was worried the insular downtown world would accuse her of selling out, Ms. Antonopoulos said, “I’m not afraid of that. If you can make something that’s commercial good, then that’s the best work of art because more people see it. I think it’s awesome that kids in Middle America, who don’t know about some small indie scene, get to see amazing work, too.”

Mr. McGinley’s “Go Forth” campaign last year was masterminded by the advertising agency Wieden + Kennedy, hired to reinvent Levi’s image. “Part of it is about discovering who makes the stuff,” said Tyler Whisnand, a creative director at the agency. “And when it’s Ryan McGinley, maybe the consumer is curious that he’s an artist and how interesting it is that Levi’s collaborates with someone like him and such a young person on a big campaign. … Whomever we work with is a reflection of Levi’s as a brand.” 

Increasingly, Mr. Whisnand has seen companies cleverly using local, sometimes recognizable faces in their national campaigns instead of professionals. (Think American Apparel’s street-scouting.) “For Levi’s, it makes sense to use regular people and cast people who are interesting,” he said. “But if you’re talking about Ralph Lauren, they’re going to swing to high-end supermodels and celebrities. Nowadays, with the way the economy is, brands like J Crew and Tommy Hilfiger and Diesel, even, are thinking, ‘Let’s be a bit more realistic. Let’s not be so high end.’”

Mr. Whisnand continued: “Tommy Hilfiger tapped into that years ago, where basically friends of friends”-Jake Sumner, Sting’s son, with Alexandra and Theodora Richards in 2003-”would go on shoots. Then Juergen Teller was doing stuff for Marc Jacobs, and it probably goes all the way back to Andy Warhol and the Factory being something people could market, and the Interview magazine phenomenon. Everyone loves the romantic idea of an artist moving to the city and starting some kind of movement, whether that be in Brooklyn or Jersey City or years ago, it was Soho or the Village, and tapping into those trends. In the ’90s it was Larry Clark’s Kids and Chloë Sevigny and that Harmony Korine phase.”

 

‘Not Going Into a Nine to Five’ 

In 2007, a creative director at Urban Outfitters contacted Jack Siegel, a young man who had a Web site called The Skullset, on which he posted photos of bicoastal kids looking beautiful, carefree and remarkably cool. Their request? Take photos of your friends, the way you already do, wearing our clothes. “I was surprised they asked me because I never had a job before for my pictures,” said Mr. Siegel, who is 24.

Some of the kids featured in the lookbook were Harley Viera Newton, now a recognizable face (DKNY, Dior, Lexus) and DJ; Ms. Antonopoulos; Mike Moonves, son of CBS president Leslie Moonves; and Clara Balzary, daughter of Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers. They were paid in $500 gift cards; Mr. Siegel received $5,000 for his photographs. (No one at Urban Outfitters was available to comment for this article.)

“I think it’s attractive to see young, good-looking kids and not the polished type of people you see on TV,” explained Mr. Siegel. “These kids kind of embody not going into a nine to five. Even if people don’t want to live that way, they want to look at it.”

It was perhaps inevitable that an agency (and soon agencies, perhaps) would be founded on that word of the early aughts we all memorized: lifestyle.

“Someone realizes that brands are casting street people,” explained Mr. Whisnand, the ad agency creative director, “and maybe that can be done easier with an agent to make sure their contracts are done properly. That will grow and grow and become the norm, and then brands will find a new way of doing it-YouYube or Twitter or Facebook casting sessions.”  Because once the casting process becomes regulated, what’s missing is this: “I think it was Doris Day or another Hollywood starlet who got discovered at the drug store,” said Mr. Whisnand. “Just down at the five-and-dime having a malt and then in walks John Huston or whoever and says, ‘My God, kid, you should be in the movies!’” 

ialeksander@observer.com