Events Are the New Magazines

Events Are the New Magazines

And Nicole Vecchiarelli and Andrea Oliveri, the founders of an agency called Special Projects, are here to celebrify them.

Nicole Vecchiarelli and Andrea Oliveri with the actress Melanie Liburd during a recent event for Town & Country at the Standard hotel.CreditCreditNina Westervelt for The New York Times

By Katherine Rosman

On a recent Thursday evening, Jordan Roth, a Broadway producer of “Angels in America” and “Kinky Boots,” was serving as the M.C. of a party hosted by Town & Country magazine on the top floor of the Standard Hotel in downtown Manhattan. Wearing sequined pants and a jeweled hairpin, he kvelled with Kelly Ripa, dressed in blue velvet.

Ms. Ripa presented an award to Lizzie Tisch, a supporter of jewelry designers, whom the event was honoring. Adam Rippon, the effervescent skating star, was there too, as was Lady Kitty Spencer, an English fashion model who perched on a chair, dripping in Bulgari, which pays her to do just that.

The celebrities were all being tended to by Nicole Vecchiarelli and Andrea Oliveri, the founders of a company called (with insidery resonance for anyone in the magazine business) Special Projects. That has long been a euphemistic term for editors who wrangle celebrities and are cozy with publicists.

Ms. Oliveri and Ms. Vecchiarelli, both 43, are former special projects and entertainment editors, at publications including Details, W, Teen Vogue and InStyle, and now work with people like Stellene Volandes, the editor in chief of Town & Country, founded more than a century ago.

In an era when glossy print publications are floundering and relying on revenue and publicity from conferences and the like, Special Projects is helping take the page to the stage.

Get me head shots! Ms. Oliveri and Ms. Vecchiarelli in their office.CreditNina Westervelt for The New York Times

They are what the Business of Fashion events, a New York magazine/The Cut “How I Get It Done Day,” speaking opportunities at the women’s club the Wing, a Kate Spade advertising campaign, a Kanye West listening party in Wyoming and a WSJ. Magazine dinner hosted by Julia Roberts all have in common.

This week, the company was hired by Glossier, the cosmetics brand that grew out of the Into the Gloss blog, to broker talent for a forthcoming marketing campaign.

A big part of Ms. Vecchiarelli and Ms. Oliveri’s business is predicting who tomorrow’s stars will be. At the Town & Country soiree, they were shepherding Melanie Liburd, cast this season as a regular on “This Is Us.”

“I’m the new girl on a hit show, and it is so wonderful that I get to meet all these new people,” Ms. Liburd said, wearing a bright Kelly-green suit.

She huddled with Ms. Oliveri and Ms. Vecchiarelli, all chatting like they were old friends.

“Amazing!” Ms. Oliveri said in response to a remark from the actress.

Ms Vecchiarelli said, “Facts!”

Special Projects’ offices (one in New York, where Ms. Vecchiarelli lives; one in Los Angeles, where Ms. Oliveri does) are now an essential stop on the press tours of young and rising celebrities. There, the women meet and chat with the young artists, to get a sense of their personal stories, charm, intelligence and ambitions.


Polaroid dreams: from the wall of would-be celebrities in the Special Projects office.CreditNina Westervelt for The New York Times

They take Polaroids and put them up on a wall, a mural of before-they-were-famous and who’s-that? that already includes Naomi Scott of “Power Rangers,” the “Sharp Objects” actress Eliza Scanlen, Letitia Wright of “Black Panther” and the actor Harvey Guillen.

The partners think Mr. Guillen, who has a role on the coming FX show “What We Do in the Shadows,” is going to break through. “I really wanted him to be a presenter at the Jewelry Awards,” Ms. Vecchiarelli said. But she didn’t think the logistics would work.

She booked Mr. Roth after meeting with him last fall at his publicist’s request. During a three-hour coffee date, they discussed his goals and the ways that he might expand his public profile. “A love explosion,” Ms. Vecchiarelli said.

As a champion of fashion and culture, he seemed the perfect host for a magazine event. “There is something about the DNA of Jordan’s career and persona that overlaps completely with the DNA of Town & Country,” she said.

Mr. Roth was indeed a hit. “Raise your hand if you spent your childhood trying on your mother’s or grandmother’s jewelry,” he instructed the crowd. “And that is why we are all here tonight! Also why some of us are gay.” Everyone ate it up.

“This is the most genius business model,” Mr. Roth said of Special Projects, before the ceremony began. “It’s the type of thing where everyone is going to be asking why they didn’t think of it before.”

Ms. Oliveri and Ms. Vecchiarelli started to work in the magazine industry just as celebrities were replacing models as the preferred cover subjects.

Ms. Oliveri, called Dre by those who know her, started her career in 1997 at W magazine as the assistant to the creative director and later became a photo and bookings editor, scheduling photographers, models, makeup artists and stylists. She then moved to Details, where she remained for a decade, choosing talent for the cover.

This was a more challenging job. Details had been brought back to life in 2000 after having been closed and was seen as a less important stepbrother to GQ. “We weren’t first on the list for hot male actors,” Ms. Oliveri said.

Also, to get any attention on the newsstand — newsstands were still a factor then — she and her colleagues knew they needed to poke fun at the celebrities they were highlighting. For an Owen Wilson cover that Ms. Oliveri had booked, the magazine cover line read: “Who Picked This Nose to Rescue Hollywood?” Another issue’s cover line: “Adrien Brody Loves Being Famous.”

“There was a lot to learn here,” she said. “How do you connect with your reader and stand out from the homogenized magazine pack without alienating the Hollywood community you need?”


Personalities are important, print is optional: Ms. Vecchiarelli and Ms. Oliveri.CreditNina Westervelt for The New York Times

Ms. Vecchiarelli has hopped from magazine to magazine through her career, familiarizing herself with different audiences’ tastes. She started as an intern at Elle in 1998, before becoming an assistant at Mirabella, whose audience was older and culturally sophisticated.

She next joined Us Weekly in 2000, the year the magazine went from a monthly to a weekly publication. She often needed to book four celebrity photo shoots and interviews per week. “Boot camp,” Ms. Vecchiarelli called it. She focused on looking for emerging stars to feed the beast. Then she went to Premiere (R.I.P.), then in 2002 to Teen Vogue.

In its print heyday, Teen Vogue was edited by Amy Astley, an exacting protégée of Anna Wintour. For any given entertainment feature, Ms. Vecchiarelli had to learn how to please many masters: Ms. Astley, Ms. Wintour, the publicist, the celebrity, the fashion photographer, the stylist. The goal was to make “the opportunity work for everyone involved, all of whom thought they were the star of the show,” she said.

Thanks to Ms. Wintour, Ms. Vecchiarelli was able to establish Teen Vogue as a tryout for young stars hoping to one day receive coverage in Vogue. She booked an early Jake Gyllenhaal’s first cover and one of Emily Blunt’s first big glossy magazine shoots. She worked with Nicole Richie, Bradley Cooper, Channing Tatum, Zac Efron, all of them then young and not the big names they are today.

After five years, she landed at Details, where she and Ms. Oliveri quickly became “work wives,” sharing an affinity for both high and low culture. They believed in the importance of landing the right cover star at the right time and also highlighting young actors and actresses before they became household names.

Ms. Vecchiarelli hopscotched to InStyle in 2008, and in 2012 she became the founding editor of DuJour, a lifestyle magazine.

The same year, Ms. Oliveri left Details to go freelance. She began to work with Kristina O’Neill, who had been named editor in chief of WSJ. Magazine. Ms. O’Neill asked Ms. Oliveri to help her think about cover subjects; these did not have to be solely ones that would “pop” at the newsstand, since the magazine, published 12 times a year, is included with the weekend edition of The Wall Street Journal.

For the November 2013 issue, devoted to innovators (and for an accompanying awards ceremony), Ms. Oliveri booked the helmet-wearing electronic music duo Daft Punk, who were enjoying peak fame thanks to “Get Lucky,” the chart-topping collaboration with Pharrell. This was a big “get” because the men under the helmets hide their faces and don’t do a lot of press.

Ms. Oliveri and Ms. O’Neill decided to book Gisele Bündchen to pose for the cover shoot with Daft Punk and then to escort them to and from the stage to receive their award, presented by Pharrell, also secured by Ms. Oliveri.

“This is so beyond a ‘Get me Gwyneth!’ relationship,” Ms. O’Neill said. “I speak to Dre more than I speak to people who sit 10 feet from me. We are in lock step on everything.” (However, Ms. Oliveri did get Ms. O’Neill Gwyneth, for a cover article and live interview at a tech conference, as well as Kevin Systrom, a founder of Instagram, and the comedian and actor Kevin Hart.)

Ms. Oliveri started to get more and more booking business. “Big, big, big celebs were seeing the importance of digital media,” she said. “Then ad campaigns started coming in asking for my help. I was thinking, ‘There is something here.’”

Ms. Vecchiarelli was editing DuJour and would join business executives as they met with prospective advertisers. “They would say, ‘I don’t want to advertise with you, but I like your ideas and your connections to talent, and what if instead of buying an ad, we could bring you on as our partner and you could book the talent for this branded content or for an event?’” she said. “People were so hungry for ideas.”

During this time, Ms. Oliveri and Ms. Vecchiarelli kept discussing the shifts they were seeing in the magazine industry. “Dre was like, ‘We’re almost 40, we have a long time left in our careers. We can’t just stay on the Titanic till the Titanic goes down,’” Ms. Vecchiarelli said.

In 2016 Ms. Vecchiarelli quit her job, and she and Ms. Oliveri opened for business.

Town & Country was an early client. Ms. Volandes had just been named editor of the magazine and was charged with bringing contemporary energy while keeping its core coverage of high society and the charity scene.

Ms. Vecchiarelli works closely with Ms. Volandes to choose subjects for the cover and does much of the work to book them.

They also spend months planning the magazine’s Philanthropy Summit, a daylong event that took place for the first time in 2014. “She understands how to bring the magazine to life in ways that are completely true to what Town & Country readers care about, but also to who they should care about,” Ms. Volandes said.

For last year’s summit and a philanthropy issue, Ms. Vecchiarelli booked Lin-Manuel Miranda for a cover; then he and his family appeared on stage to discuss giving as a family tradition. Karlie Kloss appeared on another version of the cover and was interviewed at the summit about her coding-for-girls program, Kode With Klossy, by one its graduates.

A third cover and onstage discussion featured March for Our Lives student activists, including Emma Gonzalez and others who survived the Parkland, Fla., school shooting. “Nicole went to Florida and created a bond of trust with those students and their parents,” Ms. Volandes said. “It was Nicole who made it happen.”

Lectures, live interviews and panel discussions have become important for companies outside of the media business too. The Wing, the women’s membership club with five spaces in different cities, has hired Special Projects to book celebrities, including Jennifer Lopez, Laura Dern, Aly Raisman and Regina Hall.

Amanda Silverman, a founder of the new publicity firm the Lede Company, and a representative for Pharrell, Charlize Theron, John Legend and others, has known the women since they all were coming up in the celebrity-media industrial complex.

For an “Incredible Women” event hosted by Porter, Net-a-Porter’s magazine, and promoted by the Lede, Special Projects booked Ms. Theron and chose for her to read a passage by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on the importance of raising boys right. Storm Reid and Mahershala Ali did a reading of correspondence between Barack Obama and a young girl.

“They’re real strategists,” Ms. Silverman said. “There is zero drama with them. They are never not calm, and they are dealing with high-energy, high- intensity situations with demanding people like me.”

Gabe Tesoriero, the executive vice president of media and artists relations for Def Jam Recordings, knew Ms. Vecchiarelli when she was at Teen Vogue and had worked with Ms. Oliveri on a Kanye West cover for Details. More recently, he learned from Ms. Silverman that the two women had started casting/celebrity wrangling company.

Last May, when he needed to find a slew of celebrities quickly, he turned to them.

Mr. West had contacted Mr. Tesoriero with “the spark of the idea,” Mr. Tesoriero said. “He was in Wyoming and said, ‘I need to bring the world to me, to hear the music where it was created.’”


Kanye West surrounded with friends during the first playing of his latest album, “Ye,” at a listening party in Moran, Wyo. Guess who helped organize this?CreditRyan Dorgan for The New York Times

Mr. West’s team and the Def Jam staff sprang into action. When discussions turned to the listening party’s guest list, Mr. Tesoriero instantly thought of Special Projects. “I said, ‘I know exactly who should handle this.’”

Within 48 hours, Special Projects had 2Chainz, Nas and Big Sean on private planes headed to Jackson Hole, Wyo.

The Special Projects women also sent Jonah Hill there. Mr. Hill has known Ms. Vecchiarelli for years, and she booked him for his first real photo shoot, for Teen Vogue. When she reached out while he was in a meeting with Scott Rudin, he left mid-meeting to get clothes at home and immediately left for the trip.

“The millennials go crazy for experiences,” said Mr. Hill in a phone interview he gave while in an Uber on his way to therapy.

The hip-hop junket got him thinking. In a few months, his own project would be released: “Mid90s,” the first film he directed, which explores friendship, skateboarding and hip-hop culture.

“I was like, ‘Why isn’t Nicole throwing all these, curating screenings and amazing events, things that would be experiential?’” he said. He and his producer Eli Bush then hired Special Projects to invite the right people.

“They have incredible ideas,” Mr. Hill said of Ms. Oliveri and Ms. Vecchiarelli. His favorite has been one to hire Prince Paul to D.J. the party after the hip-hop tastemaker screening. Mr. Paul is a recording artist who was prolific in the 1990s.


Jessica Chastain on the red carpet at opening night of “To Kill a Mockingbird”at the Shubert Theater. Political activists and intellectuals were also invited.CreditRebecca Smeyne for The New York Times

Well, that got Mr. Bush thinking. He was starting to plan opening night for a Broadway play that Mr. Bush was producing with Mr. Rudin and Barry Diller: Aaron Sorkin’s adaptation of “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Mr. Bush brought on Special Projects to help fill the theater and party afterward with whomever they thought should be there, he said.

Among those on the Special Projects list: Oprah Winfrey, Spike Lee and Hasan Minhaj (formerly of “The Daily Show”) But the women also invited activists and intellects like Brittany Packnett, who is a police reform activist and a “Pod Save the People” host, and Darnell Moore, the author of “No Ashes in the Fire.”

These are people who would not otherwise have been on Mr. Bush’s radar. Of Special Projects, he said, “We would hire them for anything and everything, and plan to.”

A version of this article appears in print on of the New York edition with the headline: Wrangling Celebrities: It’s a Specialty. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe


Published at Sat, 02 Feb 2019 14:14:08 +0000