Welcome to a new series where we bring the BoF community even closer together by getting to know some of our key members.
BoF: What is your current role?
Damien Neva: I work for Next Management. I’ve been with the agency for a little over five years and I am nominally the director of social media for the agency, working out of the New York office. That doesn’t include [managing the accounts of] individual models, just [social media] for the agency. Curation is a big part of what I do, because Next represents several hundred models and musicians — all very talented people — so it’s about making the decision of what to share.
During the ready-to-wear season I produce original coverage of the women’s shows in New York, London, Milan and Paris, so that involves going backstage and shooting videos of our models when they are appearing in shows. I will do maybe upwards of 30 shows a season and I’ll produce a 39-to-40 second cuts of that experience. At the Prada show in Milan, for example, with half a dozen of our models there, I’m with the camera, shooting and editing and then posting on our platforms.
I also talk to our incoming models about best practices in using social media. The importance of it has really changed; it’s central to who a model is and where their career is going.
BoF: What do you wish more people understood about your job?
DN: The importance of curation. Co-owners Faith [Kates] and Joel [Wilkenfeld] really wanted me to bring a voice to the agency. I’ve done that by making decisions on what is and isn’t important, as well as producing content that is specifically tailored to the talent we represent. It's important because on social media — especially fashion week — there’s a lot of repetition.
After a while I think exhaustion can creep in, so I really try to bring a unique voice and perspective, and shoot our talent in a way that I’m not really seeing anywhere else. If you look at one of my films for any particular show, I hope you’re not looking at it in a way that makes you think, “this is an advert for Next Management.” My coverage is about getting close to the creatives working in a our industry [and] get my lens as close to them as I can, without interfering with the show.
BoF: What were you doing before Next Management?
DN: I moved to New York in 2000 for graduate school at New York University studying an interdisciplinary master’s programme in humanities and social thought. I just happened to see a listing for a job with Ford Models, where I was hired to work in their art department. I worked there throughout grad school and for a number of years after finishing my degree.
Then, as social media started to become a thing, I was doing it for them for a few years. When I left Ford in 2012 I spent a season at Calvin Klein doing public relations, which wasn’t really my cup of tea to be honest. That’s when I found, I’m more a creative, not a PR person, so then I got back into the agency world and now I’ve been at Next for five years.
What I’ve always found to be helpful is my ability to write. Having studied English literature as an undergrad I’m a voracious reader and I write everyday. Meanwhile, visual arts is not something I ever studied, but it's something I had to learn to do in order to produce the kinds of work I publish on platforms with a very limited budget. I had to learn how to shoot, edit and produce content in a way that speaks well for the agency, the talent and everyone involved.
I wouldn’t say I got into the industry by accident, but if you’d asked me 25 years ago “what do you want to be?” I’d say “English professor!” But I happened to get into this industry and I really enjoy working with a number of creative people. It’s what a lot of people don’t understand about this industry; there are so many sides to it. For anyone who is looking for a career and not sure if they have a place here, it’s a big tent and a lot of people can fit under it.
BoF: What is the number one lesson you've learned during your career?
DN: The number one lesson is to take initiative. If you’re looking for permission to do things, you’re going to hear a lot of “no's." I’ve always been pretty self-reliant. That’s not to say that doors haven’t been opened for me, but I also I think I’ve gotten where I am by showing initiative and really going for it. For any young person out there who’s looking for their place: Show the initiative, be passionate about something and really go for it, because there are so many talented people out there that you need to differentiate yourself. I think perseverance and an ability to deliver at a high level has certainly served me well throughout my career.
BoF: What are the challenges you are facing as social media director?
DN: I would say access. As much as I have the ability to do things on my own, the greatest challenges I’ve faced have been access-related. I often tell my colleagues, “if you can get me in that room that’s really all that I ask — I can handle the rest.”
Because I am such an independent person, it’s definitely more challenging when I have to work with other people. Part of my professional goals is being better with who I work with. There are some people who are great at networking and I really marvel at what they do.
BoF: What industry shifts are you most optimistic about?
DN: Definitely inclusiveness and diversity. As a straight white cis man I want to see more diversity both behind and in front of the camera. There is a real need for different stories to be told; mine’s been told too many times. We are starting to see changes, but there’s still so much more than can be done.
Also, I think we can take a further step back when it comes to just the voraciousness of the production cycle and ecology and climate change. I see a lot of articles about sustainability and fashion, but I think there’s an even bigger discussion that could be happening about capitalism. Capitalism is destroying the planet and when I see discussions about how “a particular line is being ethically sourced,” I think “yeah that’s great, but it doesn’t address the larger challenges that we face as a planet.”
BoF: What topics should the fashion industry be debating more vigorously?
DN: The #MeToo discussion is something I don’t want to see going away. I want to see it being addressed and I want to see more positive change going on. I’ve been encouraged by some of the things that have happened, how people have been named and outed, and I want to see more of that. It’s not that I want to see people punished; I want to see people who work in this industry protected.
BoF: How do you hope the industry will evolve in 2019?
DN: I’m not sure where the industry is going, but I’m curious about the fissures and fractures that are taking place. The [changing] show calendar is a very obvious and prominent example, but it’s also happening in the way that social media has changed. Advertising, print, it’s all in flux and none of us can sit still because it is all in motion. The world’s speeding up and fashion is in that world.
BoF: What are your thoughts on the rise of influencer culture and #sponcon?
DN: To me, it looks insane. It seems so very shallow. You hear people talk about how “we want to find out what’s authentic.” If you’re looking for that, I’m not sure you’re going to find it there. If anything, it’s an example of what I don’t want to do and what I don’t find interesting.
If I can do anything that can cut through that noise and resonate in a way that’s different and unique, then great, I’m doing my job. I do recognise that it is the dominant culture and currently what is winning in culture today, but I think there’s change afoot. This is a cyclical industry. Fashion is an incredible industry and there are so many sides to it. Influencers are just one aspect.
BoF: What are you doing differently in your role this year?
DN: I recognise that the work that I do doesn’t take place in a vacuum. This is a changing industry and I’m looking at ways of producing “content” that speaks to this changing world.
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