Olivier Bourgis’ OBCM agency will acquire Ritual Projects, the Paris-based public relations firm which helped to establish Vetements and its then-creative director Demna Gvasalia, as well as brands including Y/Project, Ottolinger and GmbH.
Financial terms of the deal, which is set to close May 1, were not disclosed.
Robin Meason, the Texas native who founded and leads the agency, will take up a new role as worldwide press director at Balenciaga, where Gvasalia has been creative director since 2015.
At a time when major Paris houses were staging ever-glitzier, influencer-friendly events to generate buzz, Meason’s clients took an underground approach that helped raise their profiles while leaving their niche identities and cool-factor intact. Since founding the agency in 2013, the crop of brands she promoted has helped to re-establish Paris Fashion Week’s reputation as a hub for indie labels, not just big luxury names.
“The coolness doesn’t come from being exclusive, from telling people they can’t come. It’s about communicating in a way that’s authentic to their vision,” Meason said.
When Gvasalia wanted to stage Vetements’ Autumn/Winter 2015 show at sex club Le Dépôt, for example, she says her natural reaction wasn’t to debate the merits of inviting the fashion cognoscenti to such a seedy venue, but simply to help make it happen. “I said, ‘OK. How many people can we fit in there? Where are the fire exits?’” she said.
Ritual Projects knew how to frame moves like Vetements’ sex-club show or an outing at a kitschy Chinese restaurant in Belleville the following season as proper fashion happenings, not just publicity stunts.
For OBCM, acquiring Ritual Projects will give Bourgis a chance to get back into the business of representing indie labels. While recent years have seen him gravitate towards bigger clients, inking contracts with Adidas and Zalando, he previously worked with designers including Giles Deacon, Christopher Kane and Mary Katrantzou at the agency Relative MO alongside former business partner Mesh Chhibber.
Many PR agencies have been struggling to stay afloat since the pandemic. Layoffs and payouts started at the likes of PR Consulting and The Communications Store even before physical fashion weeks were cancelled. Now Paris has seen six fashion weeks come and go in a mostly digital format.
But while the business of staging parties and runway shows dried up during the pandemic, helping clients find ways to adapt and better communicate online has helped pick up some of the slack. Meason says Ritual Projects only saw one of its 11 contracts suspended due to the pandemic.
Still, when offered the chance to come in-house at Balenciaga, the idea of focusing on a single client “gave her a huge rush of energy,” she said.
Following the deal with OBCM, three of Ritual Project’s four employees (aside from Meason) plan to remain in the business. Clients who have confirmed they’ll stay on include Area, Ottolinger, Li-Ning and Le Labo cosmetics.
The agency will retain an independent structure and strategy. “I want to preserve Ritual Projects’ unique identity,” Bourgis said.