When Lady Gaga strutted down the MTV VMA’s red carpet wearing a dress made of raw meat, she left a legendary mark on pop culture. Gaga was still a rising star at the time and the dress, of course, plastered headlines the next day. The divisive look was designed to garner a visceral reaction; some people were disgusted and others praised the pop singer for her ambition and inventiveness. The outlandish look positioned her as a groundbreaking artist committed to pushing the status quo and, because nothing like it had been seen before, the dress went down in history as one of the most memorable red carpet statements. But like most indelible pop culture moments of the past few decades, Gaga alone didn’t come up with the look. There was an entire team of people, helmed by a creative director, who conceptualized and executed the dress.
The average music fan is familiar with many front-facing roles in music industry. Publicists, managers, and booking agents are jobs that get a lot of mainstream credit. But many people would be surprised to learn all the work that happens behind the scenes in their favorite artists’ music, branding, concerts, and content. One of those roles is that of a creative director. But what exactly does a creative director do, and how does their work impact the music industry?
To answer that question, Uproxx spoke with Original Creative Agency co-founders Jesse Rogg and Jesse Rose. Original Creative Agency — OCA for short — is the first of its kind. They represent nearly 50 of the leading creative directors across the globe whose portfolios include work like Beyonce’s Homecoming film assets, Travis Scott’s Astroworld tour, and yes, even Gaga’s raw meat dress.
To better explain creative directors’ roles in projects, OCA’s co-founder Jesse Rose likened it to building a house. “Creative directors are really like architects,” he says. When a person hires an architect, they sign on during the very early stages of a project. The client usually has some vague idea of how they want their house to look, including layouts that are non-negotiable like number of rooms, bathrooms, and specific details like exposed beams and crown molding. But for the most part, the architect is the one that takes their client’s general idea and creates a blueprint of the bigger picture. “If you imagine an architect doing the drawings to build a house, then the creative director is building the vision of a campaign,” Rose says. Creative directors create decks and outlines to conceptualize everything from what an artist will wear in a certain project to which director, photographer, and graphic designers will best fit the project’s vision. From there, they hire a project manager to keep everything on track and work with stylists and makeup artists to make sure the project’s concept stays focused. “Like an architect, once you’ve laid those plans, you are there building the house with the artist and with the team,” Rose adds. “And it becomes a coherent world.”
OCA’s job comes even before a creative director signs on, though. When a musician, brand, or fashion designer comes to them, OCA pulls from their master list of the world’s top creative directors to find which person will best match the client’s personality to push the envelope and help their vision come to life. “It’s almost more of a talent agency, if you will, that represents these creative directors,” Rogg describes. “We’re the first and only company in the world that’s done this purely for creative direction. We wanted to give [creative directors] an environment where they can really focus purely on the creative and we handle all the rest of the communication, accounting, forward-planning, and all that stuff.”
The world of creative direction looked very different when OCA was first founded. “It was still in the days when creative directors were considered sort of a dirty little secret that the artists wanted to keep private, because they wanted it to look like it’s all coming from the artist,” Rogg says. But now, artists are proud to credit their creative directors. “Creative directors have come out of the shadows, if you will.”
Like many fields, the pandemic played a part in altering the industry and helping creative directors go from dirty little secret to front and center. For one, there was a massive influx of demand for OCA’s services. Touring — which up until 2020 had been one of the biggest ways to promote releases — wasn’t happening, so artists found themselves suddenly competing for attention in a way they never had before. “Creative directors are more needed than ever because it’s sort of an arms race to have the most viral or most exciting visual campaign in the world. Because that’s what gets shared around,” Rogg says. So, they had to get clever. With the help of creative directors, artists promoted their music with everything from video games to stop-motion videos. Soccer Mommy, for example, created 8-bit performance videos in lieu of her canceled tour. Doja Cat did something similar, redesigning her website into an 8-bit video game world.
The musicians aren’t the only clients OCA works with. Their portfolio includes brand work for companies like Nike and creative direction for fashion brands like Miu Miu and Louis Vuitton. “When we first started this company, we started it purely aimed at music because we both come from music,” Rose says. At the time, Rose was a DJ managed by Roc Nation and Rogg was producing and in a band signed to Island Records. In fact, the two met because Rogg was producing an artist Rose worked for. That’s when they realized even massive artists in the industry were lacking a creative team. “We met up and were like, we’ve managed to change culture a bit within our music careers, but how do we change culture on the world stage? And knowing that there was a need for a creative agency, we started the company,” Rose recalls. That was only five years ago. “And then when we started getting approached by brands and fashion houses, we thought, “Oh, this is a completely different type of world,” Rose says. But they soon found out that the fashion and music industries aren’t so different after all.
“Especially in the lifestyle and culture side of things, brands look to the music industry and what people are doing in music for inspiration and for sort of lead creative leadership,” Rogg says. “So a lot of the brand work comes through the music work that we’ve done, and then vice versa.” Rose agrees, adding: “I think fashion has always been influenced by music. In fact, any youth culture brand, music is normally the catalyst for inspiration. And then it makes sense that [fashion brands] would want to work with the people who are starting that inspiration.”
Whether it’s creating a campaign in the fashion world or creating a show-stopping stage design for The Weeknd’s tour, one thing OCA strives to be is intentional. “Having an intention and staying on that track is so key,” Rogg says. When a number of people from an artist’s management team to higher-ups at a label are involved, it’s easy for a project to become disjointed. “Unless there’s one person, one creative director that is that wayfarer that keeps things on track and keeps things moving forward and upwards, the intentionality can get lost.”
Being intentional isn’t something OCA does alone. The co-founders believe it’s a trait all artists should have, especially those trying to break into the industry. “I think when you start and your an upcoming artist, you should really be reading magazines, going to art galleries, really just looking around and finding a definition for yourself and who you see yourself as,” Rose advises. Once you have a vision and enough of a following, bringing a creative director onto your team is vital. “At the beginning, I think you find your own voice and then you have creative directors to amplify it,” he adds. Rogg agrees: “No matter if you’re a young artist starting off or if you’re a hugely established artist, being aware of who you are and what your vision is and how people see you is important.”