‘People like Björk give you the tools
to make mad things happen.’

Anna Meacham’s Huxley agency is something like a meeting place, easing the connections between visionaries.

Interview by Jonathan Wingfield
Portrait by Jo Metson Scott

Momentum. Anna Meacham. - © System Magazine

Anna Meacham’s Huxley agency is something like a meeting place, easing the connections between visionaries.

Since its launch in 2018, Huxley, Anna Meacham’s agency has blazed a unique trail through the world of PR. Most obviously, there are the clients – a compact list of big names: including Björk, Frank Ocean, Megan Thee Stallion, Diplo, Charli XCX, A24 films; around 30 clients to date. Then there is the breadth: the concentrated talent in this tight group covers a vastly eclectic swathe of industries, from hip-hop to cinema, classical music to fashion, performance art to football, graphic design to food. The characteristics that connect these entities apply as readily to the agency itself: a certain resistance to categorization, an almost stubborn self-expression, a soupçon of something subcultural, now prized in the mainstream.

Shrugging the label of ‘PR agency’, Huxley self-styles as a ‘globally connected partner to talent, brands and organisations’ whose role, beyond managing public image, is to catalyze collaboration across industries, and help creatives find their full expression, to everybody’s benefit. More than a gatekeeper, Huxley is something like a meeting place, easing the connections between composer Max Richter and Dior Homme’s Kim Jones, or the link between Frank Ocean and Miuccia Prada. Crossing categories comes naturally to Meacham, who cut her teeth as a heavy-metal-loving teenager in Manchester, creating band T-shirts for girls in a very male world. Fearless and open-minded, with an eye for an untapped market, is Meacham creating a new kind of agency, primed to shape (and benefit from) the intersection of fashion and entertainment?

Jonathan Wingfield: How do you describe what you do, and what Huxley does?
Anna Meacham: We build around people and around brands. That can seem a bit mysterious because every single one of those people or brands has a completely different need or goal. But they are our north stars, and we advocate for them; in some cases to amplify, and in some cases to retract. Our expertise is the public-facing side of the work, but, by nature, that includes everything that is in the dark as well, that people don’t see.

It sounds like the work is defined on a case-by-case basis. Do you find that when you first meet someone, the mission very quickly sets itself in place?
Yes, I think so. We tend to have really long partnerships with people. I set up Huxley five years ago and I was so lucky that when I started the business, I had clients who had worked with me since I was 18. Our approach has always been to talk about things in terms of career and life legacy, and then work backwards to the next three months, the next month, et cetera. We have very open, strategic, specific conversations with everyone we’re working with or thinking about working with, and that informs our systems of working. Everyone has a different life situation, a different career situation, and the beauty of working with human beings as opposed to brands is that in that relational side of it there’s a sort of tension – a good tension – that never sits still, is always moving.

It’s interesting that you think as long term as a client’s life legacy. Can you give me an example of that?
Yes, even after just one event or performance: ‘How are people going to think about that? What does it mean in the world, or to that person?’ For example, in the past 18 months, we started working with Max Richter, who is the biggest classical composer of our time. He is incredible, and even though a lot of people are aware of him, I don’t think enough people have understood the range of what he can offer the world. He composes incredible records, he works for Hollywood and the film industry, he also has an incredible relationship with Kim Jones at Dior Homme, and with LVMH. He is building a whole world in the visual space, and then he is really involved in climate change and sustainability. One of our goals is to help the world understand that he is one of the most important creatives and cultural figures of our time. So, it is about building around him, opening doors, and creating opportunities for that to happen.

‘I could only buy men’s heavy-metal band T-shirts, so we’d cut them up, customize them, and make girls merch that we distributed through Myspace.’

Anna Meacham

What role does Huxley play in building those bridges between worlds?
One thing I am proud of, is that we don’t just specialize in one sector. So, maybe a client really wants to get involved in policy change, and we’ll have the connections, the network and the language to build those bridges. And that could apply to fashion, music, sport, design – any industry. There is an exchange, a dialogue. We’ll be like, ‘Have you read this or this? Do you know this gallery?’ And then it all comes together, so that you are building an ecosystem and infrastructure which is greater than the initial spark. For example, we recently brought together Max Richter and Alastair McKimm to work together on the visual world for an upcoming musical project that Max is working on. Both Max and Alastair are visionaries in their respective worlds but have much more to offer than is probably expected of a contemporary classical composer or someone working within fashion. I’m so excited to see how their separate disciplines can collide. Another example that springs to mind was when we introduced Charli XCX to Katie Grand at a party, and they just immediately locked in. And Charli and Jonathan Anderson adore each other, they are thick as thieves. We introduced Adwoa Aboah, when she was doing the Gurls Talk podcast, to Malala [Yousafzai], and to Gina Martin, who took a bill about upskirting to parliament and made it illegal. Just this morning we connected Jamie Oborne who owns Dirty Hit – one of the world’s leading independent record labels, which releases all the records by The 1975 – with Cyrill Gutsch from Parley for the Oceans, who has found a way to produce vinyl from plastic found in the Maldives. We build those bridges all the time.

How are you able to monetize that?
We are paid retainers by our clients, and we get commission based on the work we do. But I’m really open with my network; I’m not scared to share a contact and make an introduction. It always comes back in positive ways. I had a meeting once with a director of WME, Dave Wirtschafter, who comes over to London for Wimbledon every year, and at the end he said to me, ‘But you didn’t ask for anything!’ I really took that away with me. He also told me that if someone leaves your business, get them their next job. Good advice!

One of the most striking things about Huxley is the breadth and diversity of its roster of talent. What would you put this down to?
When I started the business, I came from Purple PR, an agency that was amazing, but big. I started as an intern and worked my way up to heading the entertainment division under the founder. It was hard to keep up with what 150 individual creative people were doing; I was aware of everyone on the roster, but it was hard to be in the weeds with them. So, when I started Huxley, I wanted to work with fewer people, all of whom are dynamic and ambitious and think about the world beyond the present. The people I’m drawn to are polymaths; they’re not just in one sector. I think media and brands understand that it’s about excellence, but also credibility, and I think that’s what ties everyone together.

Are there specific traits that link Megan Thee Stallion, The 1975, A24 film studio, Homer, Marcus Rashford, Björk, and Zak Group?
All of them go beyond what you would expect of a movie studio, a pop star, a musician, or an athlete. I think everyone that we represent is trying to do something meaningful and positive. It is not just about fame, or making money, or ticking off your personal achievements. There is a purpose. I would say that is core. Celebrity culture has always been huge, since it was ever a thing, but there’s no question that young kids now are following their favourite pop stars or models as role models. Someone like Paloma Elsesser is just an incredible role model for young girls, but also for designers, and people who have been in the industry forever.

Imagine I’m a great artist – someone who’s credible, with a unique point of view and a global reach. What’s your elevator pitch to me to come and join your roster at Huxley?
Our job is to have your corner. So, it’s not really an elevator pitch, but we do put our cards on the table about who we are and check we are aligned about what we can do. We want them to believe in us as much as we believe in them. Just because someone is successful doesn’t mean we’re going to be the right fit for one another.

‘Every lunchtime I would walk up and down Bond Street, looking at Prada, Lanvin; studying shop windows just to get these names in my head.’

Anna Meacham

Is that one of the principal ways your clients might feel the distinction between what Huxley offers them and what more ‘old-school’ powerhouse talent agencies represent?
I have always felt like a bit of an outsider to the music, fashion, and sports industries and the whole team we are building here is very much the same. I see that as a big benefit. We are not obsessed with the politics of one particular industry, and everyone has their own take on things. As regards agencies in general, I think PR agencies need to start backing themselves a bit more, we need to rate ourselves and charge proper fees. A lot of people undercharge, and I think that’s a shame.

How do you feel about scaling up the number of people on your roster?
We definitely are scaling. In addition to London, we have teams in New York and in Paris, but our intention is to keep everything family style, with a human connection in parallel to our business arrangements. Scaling doesn’t necessarily mean the numbers of desks or names on our roster; I see it more as scaling our network, expertise and reach.

Name an artist you’d love to work with.
I love Jonathan Anderson. He is so bright; I love his approach to his work. I’m really interested in Justin Bieber. Similar thing with Bella Hadid; the opportunities with her are just incredible. We often talk in our team about the ‘new era of content creators’. But I actually think the term ‘content creator’ kind of boxes in what people like Cindy Kimberly and Gabbriette are capable of doing. It’s just too reductive.

Gabbriette and Bella Hadid are very different cases. Could Huxley make an approach to Bella Hadid without stepping on the toes of her model agency?
We are always collaborating with partners – whether they’re model agencies, record labels or football clubs. Our approach is to be positive, collaborative team players because we just want the best work and the best output. Paloma Elsesser works with IMG, and we’re really close with her agent Mina White there, who is a complete visionary. We talk all day, every day, about how we can best serve Paloma. We don’t want to enter into exchanges with people where there isn’t that genuine dialogue.

‘You’re serving the client, being in the background, wearing black. We say ‘no’ a lot – a hell of a lot – but then we’ll call back and say ‘What about this?’’

Anna Meacham

Does working with Marcus Rashford differ from with models or creatives?
Athletes are phenomenal human beings; they have to be so disciplined for a higher purpose, especially for a footballer like Marcus who serves his club and his country. So, there is no selfish gene in that: he is a team player all the way. That’s great, because that’s a really clear bottom line to start from. He has his training and his sponsors, so he can’t just go off to a fashion show. And his agent is his brother, Dane, who is brilliant at helping us navigate that world. We have a great relationship with Manchester United and we talk every day and make plans. We started working with Marcus in January and the most important thing is to serve the game, and make sure he is not distracted. Just last week we were in Manchester, sat down with his sponsors and the club and his agent, to set out the mission and what we want to achieve. Marcus is senior on the team, but he has been signed to that club since he was seven. That journey isn’t really comparable to any other industry. We want the world to understand that he is one of the football greats, but off the pitch, he legitimately brings things in for his community. It is about bringing all of that together.

What can you do that Manchester United doesn’t already?
We manage the relationship with Macmillan, the publishing house that does his books for kids, which go from fantasy fiction to workbooks about self-belief which hopefully arm the next generation with some of the tools that he feels he didn’t have. Then we make sure he has the opportunity to connect with different people. He came to Paris to attend Pharrell’s Louis Vuitton debut, which introduced him to new people and put him on a different stage. His club commitments will always be the priority, but Marcus was also the face of Burberry, and he has a partnership with Nike as an athlete. You know, I love seeing how the different industries perceive one another. Sometimes I’ll sit in fashion rooms, and they are all talking about a record, and I’m like, ‘Really? That record?’ And then in a music industry room, they’ll be raving about a certain designer who’s underrated elsewhere. I like the differences. I think we’re very good at that translation.

Which specific artists, brands or scenes were you first drawn to when you were a teenager, forming your tastes and aesthetic choices?
I was really into heavy metal from about 13 or 14. I grew up in Manchester and there was a lot of that subculture when I was a teenager. I was drawn to it because it was slightly outside of the norm, and there’s a lot of innovation in music that’s on the fringes of society. For example, I was fascinated by the tape-trading scene; I used to collect magazines and make collages; and there was Napster, Myspace and Messenger, which opened the world to me. I could make friends in the Czech Republic who wanted to hear a cool band from Manchester. When I was 15, I was getting annoyed that I could only buy these really baggy men’s T-shirts with my favourite heavy metal bands on, so me and my friend started this business where we would cut them up and customize them, and make female-led merchandise that we distributed through Myspace. We were young women in a male-dominated industry, and guys would be condescending, like, ‘You don’t know about this music.’ That was a good way to learn how to stand our ground. I made enough pocket money, and it was a good foundation for my approach to community building now.

When did you first think about pursuing a professional career in entertainment and culture?
When I was a little girl, there were TV shows like Pop Idol, Popstars and X-Factor and I would have loved to have been in a band like the Spice Girls. I saw people like Pete Waterman and Simon Cowell, and was, like, ‘Oh, that’s a job where you can have some power.’ It’s not a glamorous entry point, but I started to understand that there was an industry behind that world, that there were record labels and booking agents. It got to a point where I was having to make decisions about education, but I decided that I would love to work around artists, so I found an internship at Purple PR in London. I thought I was going to work in the music division, but ended up in fashion. We had Beyoncé’s brand, House of Derreon, as a client, so I was, like, ‘Wow, I work for Beyoncé now, I’m folding Beyoncé jeans!’ Then I became acquainted with the CEO of the entertainment business, and he asked if I wanted to go into music.

‘I love seeing how different industries perceive one another. I’ll be in fashion rooms, and they’re all raving about a record, and I’m like, ‘Really?!’’

Anna Meacham

What do you think they saw in you?
I think I was just up for it. I was like, ‘I’m here to work.’ I learned from people within the business; we worked with Prince, we launched Adele’s career, we worked with tiny bands. We had to deal with every kind of person, at every scale, in every industry, and I learned to be resilient and to take joy from it.

What was your first embarrassing moment in the business, when your inexperience revealed itself?
When I was interning, I understood fashion in a cultural sense but I wasn’t really aware of the brands – there had been no luxury in my family house. I started to understand there was a language and system of brands that really mattered. So every lunchtime I would walk up and down Bond Street, looking at Prada, Lanvin, and so on, studying shop windows just to get these names in my head. I definitely felt it was a weakness, that I hadn’t come from a world of luxury. There was a part of me that wanted access to that world, because I didn’t like it that the door was closed, that I didn’t have friends who worked for those brands. I had a fight in me to get through those doors.

When you started Huxley in 2018, were there reference points you looked to, in terms of direction or strategy?
I like how art galleries build their brand and their output. They are super protective, and that’s always been inspiring. I really admire the greats in our industry, like Karla [Otto]. And I have been working with Björk for 15 years, and she has always pushed the boundaries. I want to connect the dots like her, to know my values like her.

Is Björk your longest client?
Yes. Björk and Frank Ocean. Björk just gives you the tools to make mad things happen. One of her records, Vulnicura, was released in complete virtual reality and that was a riot to promote, because we were sitting down with publishers and being, like, ‘Can you make a virtual
reality magazine cover?’

When do you think fashion became part of pop culture and when did pop culture become fashionable?
I feel like music artists have always visually expressed themselves, especially in performance. But there have been individuals who have really eloquently brought those worlds together, like Lady Gaga: she isn’t just in a costume, she’s making intelligent references to the archives of designers. Kanye West has done that, too. They have set a standard for other musicians. Certain musicians and actors and artists are on another level of creativity, and Marc Jacobs, Jonathan [Anderson], and Donatella Versace are visionaries on that level, too. So when you bring two of them together, it becomes this synchronized moment.

What are the benefits of those moments?
It might nourish you or open the door to making a better record. The tastes of people in different fields often align, and it can be very exciting when you see visionaries clash together.

How does that play out?
Sometimes painfully! No, honestly, it’s that respect thing. It can be a mission, because you are getting two or more incredible and confident people with great ideas into a room to collaborate. I’m sure there are lots of failed attempts at that, but it can be really fruitful.

In previous eras, musicians collaborating with big commercial brands was considered a ‘sell out’, but fashion now represents an important revenue stream to artists. Why do you think things have changed?
Society has changed a hell of a lot. I think that money has become highly aspirational. Sometimes there are partnerships that we do with a client, where I know that in the past we’d have worried about alienating fans, but actually the fans these days really like it; they want to see their idols rising and building their business.

‘PR agencies need to back themselves more, we need to rate ourselves and charge proper fees. Lots of agencies undercharge, which is a shame.’

Anna Meacham

Can you give me an example.
Ghetto Gastro are a culinary collective from the Bronx. Community is key to them, so we work with them on things like a community garden they’re involved in, and throwing block parties. But they’ve also rolled out products at 1,900 Target stores: waffle mixes, breakfast pastries, and syrups. So it’s taking these three guys who are very community-first and geographically-specific and making them into global thought leaders. They’ll be on the cover of a niche magazine like Office, but then they’ll be on the Drew Barrymore show. The mission is to transcend where they come from, so they become leaders in business, not just food.

Can you talk about Jack Antonoff?
Jack is a relatively new client, and as a music producer he has a catalogue of work that includes some of the best records in the last decade. He has been in studios with Taylor Swift, Lorde, Lana Del Rey. With him, our approach is about transcending expectations; he is a great writer, a big part of the broader New York scene of art galleries, policy makers, business leaders. It is about bringing him into the spotlight, because he deserves to be a thought leader and keynote speaker in the music industry.

What do you think fashion offers to your clients?
For our clients, on a pure, brutal marketing level – in terms of reach – fashion has a lot of power. But for fashion houses, our clients deliver authenticity and a human connection to consumers. There’s been an important power shift in the relationships with fashion brands, where people also take their very personal values into consideration. We have lots of difficult conversations with CMOs and publicists, saying that something is not authentic, that it doesn’t represent the person.

What about the financial transaction in all this? Could you give an idea of the figures of what’s at stake?
To be honest, there is no logical rhyme or reason when the CMOs come to see us. But those kinds of deals are usually a high-six-figure, low-seven-figure deal, with a royalty attached. It’s a marketing exchange, so it really does vary enormously. You have to weigh up the opportunity and exposure for our client in question, but you can’t sell out. We feel like we know our bottom line.

What is it about your artists that makes them such avatars of global aspiration?
It’s both the emotional connection and the fact that cultural figures are role models; you want to reflect a bit of what they represent in the world. Musicians, artists, and athletes have tastes beyond commerce. They often have a good sense of what looks cool.

What have you learnt about the lives of celebrities having worked in such close proximity to them?
I’m always amazed by the way public-facing people have this self-belief. They put their really personal work out into the world, and they bare their soul. You know, this is something I spend a lot of time thinking about. I can look at everyone we represent and think: what else would they do, if they didn’t do what they do? Like Björk – what else would she do? Every element of her life is a work of art. That’s what I’m here to serve, and I do see it as a privilege, because these people are different: maybe it is extreme talent or extreme self-belief; it’s like some people can’t hold it in. I think everyone has the capacity to be an artist, but some people are just on another level. With athletes, too. I love hearing the stories Dane tells us about when Marcus was a kid, playing football. They all played but Marcus was next level.

What are the important factors for an artist’s longevity?
Quality output and understanding the changing world, because the way stories are told is changing every day. One day something is okay and the next day it’s not. One day this company is on top of the world and the next day it has filed for bankruptcy. Being responsive to the world around us is really key. You don’t have to change yourself because of it, but you do have to be aware of it.

Could you imagine a time when a successful artist might emerge that has no specific geographic or cultural provenance? Where the only significant metric of success is their desirability in the digital world?
We worked with Lil Miquela, [the online, fictional character] made by Trevor McFedries and Sara DeCou, and it was a really interesting philosophical thing that they did. We were Miquela’s representatives for a year; we took her to the fashion awards maybe four or five years ago. She met Mrs Prada, we had her on the cover of magazines, it was really good fun. I absolutely think there is a future for avatars and so on, and I guess everything has an origin of some kind. I was trained in PR to look at every angle of the person you represent, and where they are from is definitely important. But something can still exist on a different playing field.

How do you differentiate what you do from straight PR?
We like to describe ourselves as representation; we are a very personalized service. Concierge, research, art direction; there isn’t a language for our industry. You are very much serving the client, being in the background, wearing black. We say ‘no’ a lot – a hell of a lot – but then we also call people and say ‘What about this?’

Given your position on the front line of today’s world of entertainment, what do you think this period will be characterized by or remembered for in 20 years’ time?
Change. Huge and significant technological, economic, and societal changes. I think we are going to see a big shift and it has already started. There are cons to that, but there are pros, as well. Looking back to the 1990s, when I grew up, it was such a pop-culture obsessed time. Maybe that changed in the noughties. I look at a lot of the younger people in my team and they’re less interested in coming to the parties with me. They seem more into TikTok. It’s a different way of consuming, and it’s definitely powerful.

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