2016 was an eventful year in fashion, so to speak, especially for Marie-Michèle Bonneau, co-founder of TEAMM Management and Saad Al-Hakkak, founder of FACES Management. In the manner of a wine and cheese get-together, the two low-key industry movers met at ever-inspiring cultural centre Never Apart with TFP’s Fashion Director Bianca Di Blasio to talk about the fashion industry’s current shift in values, the future of boutique agencies,  and authenticity.

B: What are you lighting?

SAAD: Sage. It releases any lingering negative energy that no longer serves the space. You usually say an intention, so tell us Bianca, what would you like to gather from this chat?

B: Well, I feel like there is a wind of change in the fashion industry right now, and both your agencies, whom are similarly innovative in terms of their business models and values, are representative of this shift. Thereby, I wanted to bring you two together here to discuss key ideas about boutique agencies, but also to bring forward who you are as individuals. As agents, your work is to promote artists you represent, and I think people are  now curious about what you are doing and how you are doing it.

SAAD: I feel that by default we are a product of the changes happening in fashion. So how’s TEAMM? What is the process now that you own a business?

MM: Well, I’ve always been a business within a business.

B: Truth be told. But how did you first start as an agent?

MM: The opportunity came when I was seeking representation for myself as a makeup artist back in the early 2000s. At the time, I was skeptical about someone taking care of my career and I wanted to know what representation was about, so I took a job as an agent. Back then I thought: “Worst case I’ll learn the other side of the business”, but I just never stopped. I was really interested in this idea of building a community of creative people working together.

B: What about you Saad?

>SAAD: I started out by doing little fashion shoots with my friends and beautiful people I would meet in Montreal back in 2007. I then began working closely with model agencies. I loved being involved with the model’s development; creating relationships with the bookers and contributing to the model’s personal image. Without even being an expert, I just had an opinion, and the agents would consider it. Creating a vision and directing has always been natural to me. I believe that is why I was always told that I should start my own agency. The thing is, I knew I was in my element when I was scouting and developing talent, but running an entire business on your own was a whole other thing.

MM: I’ve had people telling me this my whole career. But what they didn’t understand is that I needed to come up with the confidence and the experience before being able to do it.

SAAD: Did you agree with them when they were suggesting that you should start your own agency?

MM: I knew that I would do it one day, but what those people didn’t ask is was: “What are you missing, what is scaring you or stopping you from starting your own thing?”

B: How did you come up with the names TEAMM and FACES?

MM: Laurie Deraps first came up with the #team_mm years ago. It stayed in my mind and I decided to go for it. It made so much sense because I would always talk about “my team”, and what I’ve been building over the years is an inclusive community of people that help each other and care for each other. I’m a community-driven person, and balance in my team is really important.

SAAD: You are a community, a team, a squad. It’s the Cancer in you. This name is perfect, not because of the two Ms, but because it represents what you stand for.

MM: Yours too.

B: That’s what first occurred to me when TEAMM launched. I couldn’t ignore the similarities with FACES’ branding. It’s the simplicity and transparency of the message. The chosen names are directly representative of the companies’ activities, even of their business models. You do not have to go through five layers of people before accessing expertise.

SAAD: True. It symbolizes how we do business. You should write my mission statement.

B : It’s authentic.

MM: It’s who we are. I come from a highly curated environment at l’Eloi and I learned to let go of that. My reputation and my artists’ will shine through their work progress. I represent junior artists aspiring to be seniors and it’s okay for them to make mistakes and even for me as an entrepreneur; I will stand by them.

SAAD: You know the potential is not fully realized but you will still promote their work.

MM: Exactly. I will still promote someone’s work even though it doesn’t represent the full spectrum of what the artist can do because it’s true to what the talent is now. I’ll stand by it, and make sure it’s seen by everyone.

SAAD: I love a good before and after.

“You are a community, a team, a squad. It’s the Cancer in you. This name is perfect, not because of the two Ms, but because it represents what you stand for.”

“Representing junior artists has brought me a whole new range of incredible opportunities.”

MM: It’s rare to find artist-focused agencies in Canada. I can only think of Toronto-based Page One who are established and represent A-list artists. It was important for me to create a home for Montreal’s production artists, and I’ve built it on the human-to-human relationship my team and I have nurtured through the years we’ve worked together in the industry. Our strength is the connections that we can bring to one another within the industry.

B: Both your approaches are very human and focused on your models/artists personalities.

SAAD: Yes and the models at FACES Mgmt are not just a pretty “face”. They are all so special, they all have a story, and are incredibly talented in their own right. I support who they truly are and I try to bring the best out of them, not just as models but as individuals.

MM: For me it’s more career focused whereas Saad you have a true impact on their personal life.

B: I disagree. From personal experience, I can tell your approach is more personalized. You care for the individual and you care for every single artist to grow to the fullest expression of who they are.

MM: Saad would you be able to work with someone you don’t care about?

SAAD: I can’t even imagine. I can’t even pretend.

B: Even if you see the potential in them?

MM: I see potential in many artists, but I’d rather work with someone who I truly care for and love, even if she/he isn’t even aware of their talent, because If I love that person, people are going to love him/her too.

B: Here it is. You are far from being only career focused.

MM: True.  At the end of the day my job exists because the artists are doing their job. There’s a great quote in The Firm (1993) saying: The firm doesn’t hire anyone with family money because it keeps the employees loyal to their principal source of income.

SAAD: The main root of the business is it’s human resources.

MM: I will always stand by and support my principal source of income, which comes from the people I care for on a human level. Yet I’m not a money-driven person, as contradictory as it may seem.

SAAD: Money is just a bonus from doing the work that we love doing.

B: How do you see the “boutique agency” business model grow? Such a personalized approach demands meticulous work, time and energy, which I believe can be beneficial on the long term, but how can it succeed on a wider scale?

SAAD: Our key to success is that we are shining a light on people who are authentic. I represent models because of who they truly are as people. I choose them based on their traits, their mannerisms, their true nature, and not only do I encourage them to be their own wonderful self, but I like to bring out what I think makes them so authentically great, sometimes to their own surprise. Then succeeding on an international level comes from introducing these special faces to industry leaders who can see the model’s greatness and they play a big part in helping me put them on the world map. For me, it’s as simple as that.

MM: My target market is Canadian, but the success will expand with my artists’ career goals, and I have to be attuned to them. You don’t need a lot of artists/models to succeed, you just have to work with the right people.

SAAD: Quality over Quantity.

MM: “Growing” for me means bringing something new, being innovative, like representing complementary artists. I don’t care to become “big”, I prefer small-sized businesses because I can see immediate results from my actions. It’s stimulating and rewarding. Plus success is something I want to closely share with people, living it by myself would bore me.

B: How about timing? Isn’t now a particularly good moment to opt for a “boutique” business size? Isn’t it today’s generation’s constant need for the new, the different, and the raw that made possible for junior talents to evolve so quickly?

MM: Yes, representing junior artists has brought me a whole new range of incredible opportunities.

SAAD: I find your junior artists and the models at FACES are representative of what is happening now in fashion, and that’s what people want. Fashion has changed so much in the past few years, if you don’t get where it’s going, you can’t really move forward. That’s why I started with brand new models, to prove myself that I could do this from scratch. I started off with one model, Aaron Shapiro, and I am now the father of fifteen. *laughs*  It is a well-curated roster of phenomenal faces.

MM: The industry has definitely changed and it has affected seniors artists’ career in Montreal. Nowadays, companies need to find ways to create tons of visual content more swiftly in order to feed all the different platforms, while still respecting the budget.  This is the right time for me to put on the map the next generation of talents, and that’s how I am positioning myself.

SAAD: Marie-Michèle, what’s your numerology?

MM: Number 4, the Builder.

SAAD: Me too. Like Richard Branson and Oprah.

B: How accurate. And promising.