‘It’s basically perceived as
a ‘fashionable’ brand.’

How A24 adopted fashion’s love of branding to transform itself from a film distributor into a social-media-savvy cultural phenomenon.

By Sara McAlpine

How A24 adopted fashion’s love of branding to transform itself from a film distributor into a social-media-savvy cultural phenomenon.

A24. - © System Magazine

When A24 was founded in New York in 2012, it was as a distributor, releasing what became ‘cult’ cinematic hits such as Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers, and Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring. Over a decade on, A24 has transformed itself into a fully fledged studio, along the way becoming one of the world’s leading entertainment brands and a cultural landmark of our times; its distinctive logo heading up the likes of Barry Jenkins’ Oscar-winning Moonlight, Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert’s everything-winning Everything Everywhere All at Once, and Sam Levinson’s TV phenomenon Euphoria.

Beyond the screen, A24’s aesthetic influence has pervaded culture more widely, arguably shifting beauty standards and driving trends among younger audiences, most notably with its stable of partly street-cast actors and make-up focus in Euphoria (the #euphoriamakeup hashtag has generated over 2.6 billion views on TikTok, inspiring a host of bold, bright beauty looks on runways). Its graphic, headless torso T-shirts, ostensibly made to promote its unique brand of ‘take it to nth degree’ horror movies, are now ‘holy grail’ products too, selling out and reselling for suitably stomach-churning prices.

Ultimately, A24’s success stems from its ability to embed itself in the culture and conversations of its digitally savvy audience. It has proved itself more than proficient in memes and virality, while the casting, hyper-stylized stories, and underlying values that help define an A24 production capture the attention of those prone to falling down social media rabbit holes.

So, why is a magazine about the fashion industry so interested in a film studio? Crudely put, A24 offers a masterclass in how the intersection of style, social media, storytelling and moving image now defines the branding strategy at the heart of any fashion house. And a remarkable red thread runs through A24’s choice of collaborators – or ‘creators’, as they prefer to describe them – some of whom feature over the following pages. It is surely no coincidence that long-time fashion industry talent, a duo behind a cult clothing brand, vintage resellers, and young professionals who cut their teeth working for the world’s most influential fashion magazines now make up the stable of creators currently driving the studio’s success.

For both A24 and the likes of Miu Miu and Loewe, it’s a case of, literally, ‘everything everywhere all at once’ when it comes to holding people’s attention, stirring conversation online, and reaching consumers.

Sara McAlpine

Before I knew A24 was a production company, I knew it as something else entirely: one of the internet’s greatest merch stores. I discovered its entertainingly eclectic mix of tchotchkes through a zine and its selection felt surprising – certainly for a TV and film studio. Each ‘product’ – an XL bedazzled Furby necklace, a collection of 33 years’ worth of unpublished poetry by Val Kilmer, featuring praise from Cher, Sean Penn, and Robert Downey Jr. – brought a different facet of A24’s productions and personality to life. The playful, unexpected objects injected a dose of levity and a degree of virality, the assortment clearly leaning into the niche and idiosyncratic. For me, A24’s merch was a case of enter – rather than exit – through the gift shop.

That was back in the early days of A24, when the New York-based studio was still principally known for its role in distributing independent films. Roman Coppola’s A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III was the first, in February 2013; Spring Breakers, Harmony’s Korine’s provocative tale of girls-gone-bad, and The Bling Ring, Sofia Coppola’s fictionalization of real-life Hollywood teen heists, followed soon after. All were pivotal in establishing A24 as a studio for both auteurs and cinephiles. Since then, and with its move into production, the studio has had a string of record-breaking successes. In 2022, Everything Everywhere All at Once broke the SAG Awards’ record for most wins by a single film, and along with Darren Aronofsky’s The Whale, meant A24 was the first indie studio in the Academy Awards’ 95-year history to win its top six awards (all four acting categories, best director and best picture). This coronation came just a decade after the release of A24’s first fully produced film: Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight. Itself a multiple Academy Award-winner, the film set the A24 template: finance films that other studios won’t touch and prove that they can be both critical and commercial successes. As Hilton Als wrote of Moonlight in the New Yorker upon the film’s release in 2016: ‘I still don’t know how Jenkins got this flick made. But he did. And it changes everything.’

At a time when many audiences are trading in cinema tickets for streaming in the comfort of their own homes, it’s seen as risky to back daring productions. Yet A24 had no fear financing films such as Ari Aster’s Midsommar, described by critics as a deeply disturbing ‘new kind of horror’, or the jarringly relentless Uncut Gems by brothers Josh and Benny Safdie, featuring a sizeable cast of non-actors, plucked from relative obscurity off the streets of Manhattan, including fashion darling Julia Fox.

A24 productions share, despite their wildly disparate themes and directors’ styles, a strong anchoring in the cultural conversation, exploring topics that may seem provocative on the big screen, but are the subject of raucous debate and discussion on online forums and social platforms: homosexuality, class, race, scamming, the liberated sex lives of young, ‘badly behaved’ women, unsanitized coming-of-age themes. That goes in hand with the creative autonomy A24 affords its creators, whether directors or hair and make-up teams.

Daniel Katz, David Fenkel, and John Hodges – the film industry veterans who founded A24 – are unequivocal about their desire for the creative output of their collaborators to speak for itself (an internal policy bans company employees speaking on the record). In a rare interview that Katz and Fenkel gave to Time in 2023, they said that, ‘We’re here because of the artists we work with; their willingness to take risks and tell incredible stories continue to drive us at A24.’
A24 has also become a stand-out brand thanks to its unique take on merchandise. No other studio goes to such lengths to differentiate itself through myriad products that both complement and set it apart from its on-screen productions. By offering its collaborators – from make-up artists and costume designers to casting directors – a platform to continue the creative conversation with clothing, coffee-table books, ‘inspired by’ make-up palettes, and more, all available through its online shop, A24 offers its hyper-engaged audience further, privileged access to its productions.

Fashion has increasingly been playing a key role in A24’s strategy. For example, the studio has been working closely with West Coast clothing brand Online Ceramics, founded by Alix Ross and Elijah Funk, to drop capsule collections tied to the release of its horror productions, a relationship that began with a series of graphic, sell-out styles for Ari Aster’s Hereditary in 2018. The duo is now also working on a book to be published by the studio’s publishing imprint, entirely unconnected to a specific upcoming release. A24 has also produced one-off accessories and products in the style of those featured in its films, such as the gold-plated Furby pendant worn by Adam Sandler’s character in Uncut Gems. And it has repeatedly partnered with New York’s Intramural shop to release several curated collections of vintage apparel for movie fans, ranging from a 1996 Cannes Film Festival T-shirt to a silk carré scarf by Giorgio Armani featuring a line-drawing of Martin Scorsese’s face.

A24 has also made a move into the beauty sphere, co-founding in 2022 cosmetics brand Half Magic with Donni Davy, the lead make-up artist on Euphoria. The brand is now producing make-up palettes inspired by the beauty looks of characters in A24 productions, such as a winged liner kit released to mark Sofia Coppola’s most recent feature film Priscilla (which immediately sold out). The influence has been such that fashion brands are now borrowing from the A24 playbook to engage bigger audiences. They have begun to build their own ‘cinematic’ universes to bring the vision of a creative director to life, assembling a cast of characters who play a key role in communicating the brand values for audiences in still and moving-image content. For example, Miu Miu, working with up-and-coming ingenues as ambassadors that feature in its cinematic campaigns, on the runway and front row at fashion shows, as well as ‘Women’s Tales’, its anthology of short films by female directors given free rein to create films featuring its clothes. And Jonathan Anderson, who, alongside producing a short film for Loewe with director Luca Guadagnino, has extended his fashion vocabulary into cinema, designing costumes for Challengers (incidentally featuring Loewe campaign star, Josh O’Connor, as one of its leads).

For both A24 and the world’s leading fashion brands, it’s a case of, literally, ‘everything everywhere all at once’ when it comes to the panoramic strategy for reaching consumers – building a culture around each project and creative collaborator that all offer myriad ways to capture and hold people’s attention, and stir conversation online. ‘Maybe in a purist sense, that’s not auteurism, that’s not cinema, and there’s something uncouth about it,’ Barry Jenkins told the Guardian about the studio’s approach to creating so much noise around each project with such an eclectic mix of content and product. ‘Yet, I think that in order for the company to remain robust, opening up art to these commercial opportunities is part of that.’ Be it conceptual fashion design or a heart-wrenching tale of once-forbidden love, everything, it now seems, can be hyped into unprecedented levels of success. Call it the A24 touch.

Taken from System No. 22 – purchase the full issue here.