The potential of creative-business partnerships has long been a topic of interest here at The Business of Fashion. However, the focus to date has been on pairings in the fashion apparel businesses — high profile partnerships like those of Tom and Dom and Marc and Robert, or emerging success stories like those of Phillip and Wen of 3.1 Phillip Lim and Victoria and Kikka of VPL.
I recently came across a partnership from a different part of the fashion business altogether — but one with equally remarkable results. Over dim sum and jasmine tea, Masoud and Caroline, the creative-business partners behind Tank, told me how they have developed their fledgling magazine business into a full-service creative agency, described their complementary roles in the business, and shared the (top-secret!) details behind an exciting digital media project which is in the works.
Masoud Golsorkhi founded Tank in 1998 on the same kind of creative passion from which many fashion businesses have been born. Working out of his living room and building on his experience as a fashion photographer for prestigious titles like Interview and Harper’s Bazaar, Tank quickly became a must-read for the global fashion insider set. In 2002, Australia’s The Age called Tank the “hippest publication on the planet.”
Hip though it may have been, things weren’t so rosy on the business side. While Tank was run on Masoud’s boundless creative energy, there was little in the way of business strategy and structure — another thing that Tank has in common with the nascent fashion labels often featured on its editorial pages. Looking back at those exciting yet daunting days, Masoud says, “Tank was a basket-case.”
Enter Caroline Issa. Armed with an MBA from Wharton, several years in management consulting, and a sharp fashion sense honed on the hip streets of Montreal and the runways of Milan, Issa proved to be the perfect foil for Golsorkhi. “Masoud is a creative genius,” Caroline told me. But when she first encountered Tank, she found “a business that was small, challenged by market forces and competition, and disorganized. I felt like I could use my consulting experience to the business around.”
And that she did. Tank is now also a thriving agency that has served the creative image needs of international brands like Prada, Levi’s and Swarovski, generating additional revenue streams by leveraging Masoud’s creative eye and Tank’s street cred. Work for O, the Observer’s highly-respected fashion supplement, has brought Tank’s point of view to a wider audience that goes beyond its core fashion insider fans.
But the real secret to their success is not simply a smart business strategy. The best creative-business partnerships are based on a deep mutual respect and on knowing what you don’t know. Caroline and Masoud are clearly in tune with each other. Masoud may be the out-of-the-box ideas guy, but Caroline knows how to make them work from within the context of a business. She is not your typical management consultant. She has a real understanding of fashion as a product and metier, with a passion for the creative talent that lies at the heart of the industry.
In September, Tank turns 10 years old, a perfectly good time to reflect on the trajectory of their business. But Team Tank is not one that look backwards. They are also building the foundation for a new media project which they hope will take the fashion industry by storm. Watch this space as the top secret project is unveiled in the coming months.
Photos courtesy of Tank.