His agency’s clients read like a fashion girl’s dream closet – think Rodarte, Opening Ceremony, Nicholas Kirkwood, Kenzo and more – matched with a stable of über brands like Nike, Visionaire and The Standard. Black Frame founder and president Brian Phillips gave us a very special insight into his company’s development, showing how continuous evolution - creatively and in business - coupled with careful curation (of clients, staff and projects) has been key in its success.
How did you start Black Frame and what were you doing before then?
My first job after graduating from Columbia University in 2002 was at Visionaire. I had been working there part time while studying and then it turned into a full time job. While at Visionaire, I met photographers and designers who were close to the publication like Inez & Vinoodh, Mario Testino and Hedi Slimane. I worked on Hedi Slimane’s issue of Visionaire, “Paris” and that was how we got to know each other a bit. He’s the person who encouraged me to start Black Frame. In 2004, I decided to open Black Frame and Dior Homme was my first client. It sounds kind of easy and seamless 13 years later, but at the time my parents and I were both in huge college debt and I put my trip to Paris to meet Sidney Toledano on my maxed out credit card. When I started the company, I had no money in the bank, no savings, no investors and no partners. It was a total leap into the unknown.
Was there a turning point for the business, perhaps the signing of a major brand or some other development, which brought you to the top agency standing you have today?
From day one, we represented Dior Homme, so I was very careful about only working with brands and creatives of the highest caliber. There were many fateful meetings and decisions I made that I look at as turning points. Meeting Kate and Laura from Rodarte in 2005 was important because it has a been brand that we have worked with since its very beginning and that we’ve built from the ground up over more than 10 years. We have really been able to express all of the facets of what makes Black Frame special through our work with Rodarte. I would say the same about Humberto and Carol from Opening Ceremony. My personal friendship and professional relationship with them over more than 15 years has been so crucial to the success of Black Frame. Our partnership has defined Humberto and Carol and their business in unimaginable ways as well.
Through all our initial relationships, our reputation began to grow. Our reputation for great ideas and the quality of our work is the bedrock of who we are. A huge turning point for me was when I parted ways with Dior Homme in 2007 when Hedi left the brand. It was a hard decision as it represented a lot of income and I was giving that up. It was my choice because of my relationship with Hedi, which meant more to me than the money. Dior wanted to keep working with Black Frame and taking that risk was very difficult because it meant I had to make other sacrifices, but I still believe it was the right one. I feel it’s important for Black Frame to represent real integrity to our clients and those who invest in the relationship with us. I know a lot of other people don’t feel this way or act this way in the fashion industry, but I do.
How do you differentiate from other agencies?
We are immersed in areas of culture that few other agencies are. Art and design are important to us and we are experts in these areas. Clients come to us for ideas that expand their potential beyond fashion, often in ways they never expected. Our relationships with film directors, curators and museum directors is extremely distinctive. Art and design are important to our clients as well. The brands and creative people who we look after really value our eye, our approach and the insightful guidance we have to offer that is honed from tireless research and immersion in culture.
You have a highly curated client list. How do you decide whom to work with? Are there any common characteristics that your clients share?
Our clients are innovators and entrepreneurs. They are bold thinkers and they want bold thinking to get them to where they want to go. That is what we offer them. We work with clients with high ambitions and who don’t put boundaries on their capabilities.
On a similar note, how do you choose your staff?
I choose staff when it is clear that their top priority is to make themselves invaluable to our clients, to their team members and to the media. I’m very proud of the fact that many of our staff have gone on to start their own businesses after learning at Black Frame. Others have become executives in their own right. People often praise our team at Black Frame to me and that is the highest compliment I can think of. Poppy Edmonds and Juliana Ribeiro, two of our Vice Presidents, have both worked with me for almost a decade. I value them and their contributions very deeply.
How is Black Frame embracing the increasing evolution of PR into the digital space?
By investing our time and resources into developing original video content tailored for digital platforms.
You have a creative offshoot from Black Frame called Framework. What does it do and how did it come about?
Creative content is fuel for all communications. As we passed our first decade in business, increasingly we began to advise our clients on these creative and strategic needs, extending far beyond the scope of traditional media relations. Our involvement in the rebranding of Kenzo was the launchpad to begin Framework. It became clear in working so intimately and comprehensively with Kenzo that we needed another new service offering to differentiate PR from our creative direction and strategic services. We began conceptualizing all of Kenzo’s advertising campaigns through Framework three years ago and conceived a new concept for their ad campaign to be drawn from an original short film. This has been a game changer for Kenzo and for Framework.
What are your goals with Framework?
To be innovative and inspiring.
Are there any other pursuits you have in mind for the future?
There are many compelling directions for us to Framework. Our new brand blueprint for Helmut Lang developed by Framework for is something that is beginning to unfold and I am very enthusiastic about where it will take us.
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