“Alana and her team are a great support—smart, enthusiastic and always available,” says Tomaso Galli, Prada’s group communications and external relations director.
For Starworks, one of the most important parts of the casting process is gauging a celebrity’s public persona. “You need to know if [an actress] is going to stay cool,” says stylist Katie Grand, who collaborated with Starworks on the Miu Miu ads featuring Gyllenhaal, as well as on the Louis Vuitton ones that have starred Uma Thurman, Diane Kruger, Christina Ricci and Scarlett Johansson. (Since then, Starworks has been jettisoned in favor of ad agency Ogilvy & Mather, which now works with Louis Vuitton’s Antoine Arnault, photographer Annie Leibovitz and a cast that includes Steffi Graf, Mikhail Gorbachev and, most recently, Keith Richards.)
A simple advertisement can also turn into much more, as was proven when Starworks placed Sienna Miller in Pepe Jeans’ 2005 campaign. One year later, when she and her sister, Savannah, were planning their own fashion line, Twenty8Twelve, Starworks was there to set them up with backing from Pepe’s owner, Carlos Ortega. Now Starworks handles most of Twenty8Twelve’s publicity and product placement. Miller, in a give-and-take scenario, regularly dons pieces from Starworks’ other clients, such as Burberry and Monique Lhuillier.
In Lhuillier’s case, Starworks also landed her dresses on Katie Holmes and Hilary Swank, two actresses on the designer’s wish list. “You can never tell a celebrity to wear something. You have to have a relationship with the stylist. Starworks makes the connection happen,” says Lhuillier, who hired the agency a year ago. “It’s not something we would ever do in-house. They are stronger because they represent more designers.”
Another example of such cross-pollination is Angelina Jolie. The firm worked with advertising creative director David Lipman to lasso the coveted star into a three-year contract with St. John, and though their choice turned out to be controversial—and part of a repositioning strategy that has reportedly dragged the company down—Starworks still benefits from its relationship with Jolie. For example, her stylist, Jen Rade, regularly heads to Starworks’ Los Angeles office to pick pieces for her clients from its group of brands, such as Thomas Wylde, Botkier and Diesel. Even Jolie’s son, Pax, was recently caught by the paparazzi wearing a jacket from Diesel, so Starworks’ press division sent out a release announcing the news.
That kind of symbiosis is a prime element in the Starworks formula, which, running largely on the strength of fuzzy relationships and personal opinion, has worked remarkably well. In seven years, the firm has grown to 50 staffers in divisions including castings for ad campaigns and editorial shoots, public relations, new-media consulting and the so-called “VIP services,” i.e., celeb gifting and product placement. In 2005 another division, SW2, was born to handle casting for “mass” brands, like the Stetson-Brady pairing.