Zeitgiest NY is a new talent agency started by New York artist agent Sydney Oliver. With the rise of influencers and the power they yield Oliver had an idea that she wanted to capture a part of the model industry that has rarely been seen. Beautiful people with beautiful stories. Oliver’s goal is to break a hole in the new market where real people who happen to be beautiful become “role models”. Many of her talent are philanthropists, LGBTQ advocates & artists. Writer Yachi Gault sits down with Sydney Oliver to talk about her inspirations and her goals for her new venture
First, let me hear about your new project, ZEITGEIST management, it’s a very interesting name. What does it mean?
For many years I have had a dream to represent real people as opposed to what people think of the typical model. Of course, influencers have helped shake up the landscape when it comes to who a brand chooses to represent them. My take is a bit different. I tend to lean more toward role models and people that have actual successful careers in their own right, which can tell a narrative, and in turn, connect with a brand that has a similar outlook. Everyone wants content, and we provide a diverse range of real stories and real people of all colors, genders, shapes, sizes, religions, and ages. It took me a while to come up with a name for the agency that would never get old or seem dated– yes, perhaps hard for some people to pronounce. Still, the meaning was perfect for what we are doing. It means “defining the spirit or mood of a particular period of history as shown by the ideas and beliefs of the time” coming from the German word: Zeit meaning time, and Geist meaning spirit. We are living in such a time shift where people feel free to be who they are, and this is reflected in, and makes up the zeitgeist, hence the name and idea!
What is special about ZEITGEIST?
I touched on this a bit earlier, but what makes Zeitgeist so special is that we represent people from all walks of life and experiences. Some are activists, one person is a neuroscientist, and another person is a very successful painter. We represent so much more. Again, age does not define who we serve. Of course, color, gender, and all the other roadblocks that a typical model or influencer may encounter do not exist within the zeitgeist agency. We are here to provide amazing content, tell great inspiring stories, make brand collaborations, and mix it up!
How do you define the current (ZEIT) trend from people you represent?
The people we represent ARE the “GEIST” (or Spirit). These are the real people that ultimately form our pop culture today. Of course, there are so many people doing so many things in 2020, that’s why I feel our agencies’ time & spirit are so influential. We range from young singers and painters to a famous mixologist with their own successful brand & many celebrity collaborations. I love that we can have a successful DJ who travels the world, a LBGTQ activist & celebrity hair-dresser, and also represent Syriem, who is a muse for Ellen von Unwerth, with her own separate successful career in fashion at 32 years old. All of these people reflect what is happening in today’s world.
In your long experience in the fashion industry, what is the most important thing in choosing talent?
There are many things when choosing talents that are so important. In the case of ZEITGEIST, it is a bit different because I wanted people with interesting careers and lives. I definitely only look for people who are always busy building themselves and making things happen (team effort). It may sound corny but I look for kind/nice people who do not consider themselves better than anyone else, I find I appreciate them and want to work harder for them, and as a result, when you have that respect, you all ultimately succeed. The key to any talent, I have learned over all my years, is that they must have their own business acumen and be a people person, without this trait it is hard to keep a client interested, and engaged. There is too much competition out there and too many others to choose from. Finally, of course, I look for people who are doing great things and interesting things that make me passionate. I love talents that are super involved and work as a team with me, which makes it exciting for us all when we accomplish great things. Passion is always the drive, and I have to feel it.
You are a big supporter of LGBTQ community, can you talk about your involvement?
I am and will always be a big supporter of the LGBTQ community. I was lucky enough to give birth to a daughter in 2000 (born male and now a successful 19-year-old girl and bi-racial). I am a single mother, and through our struggle with her transition in 1st and 2nd grades, when she was only seven years old, we needed emotional help! The Ackerman Center in NYC truly helped us through those tough years. As a result, the education I have received has been able to help many other parents who find themselves in a situation they can’t comprehend, and do not know where to go to get help. When I was able to help people, through raising money for events and speaking, I realized how good it felt and how much it was needed. I met so many incredible trans people that are so strong and have been through difficult times, because of how they were born or certain situations they had with their families. This has made me stronger as a single parent of a bi-racial & transgender child. Understanding what humans have to go through for being marginalized is something many of us will never understand, but being an advocate can change lives and the human spirit.
Do you think that discrimination still exists against LGBTQ, age and race in the fashion and entertainment industries?
I want to say no because there have been so many strides and doors opened as of recent for these both trans people and African American people. I sometimes wonder if it is exploitation or a trend (for transgender), but I guess any step ahead can be put in the winner’s circle because it brings awareness. On the racial front, I think it will always be a deep struggle thanks to American history. Although obviously there are so many talented and successful people of color and trans people (or both) in the entertainment, sports, and music industries as well as great entrepreneurs that have changed our world. I do see a change because we are constantly all changing and it is really hard to go backward. I am happy for the progress that has been made but always feels there is room for a lot more, I think the generations behind me are more tolerant, and I hope eventually a lot of the hate will be wiped out over time (fingers crossed).
If this gap still exists, how can we bridge it?
Bridging the gap is the struggle that we all have to work toward by trying to diminish it. By not seeing color or gender, there has been a trickle-down effect on other people who are not as educated on this topic. Perfect example, I am a white cis woman who presents professionally and usually am very put together and strong. It helps when talking to others about inequalities, and they seem more open to understanding out of respect for me (I think it is a shame that people judge the information they receive under these circumstances of who is delivering it, – but it’s a reality). One person at a time is a great way to make changes, but all working together toward change and perception would be my choice!
What’s the secret of making both the talent and clients happy?
Is there a secret to making clients and talent happy – YES! Never push someone for a project that does not match the personality on both sides. Matching talent and client is instrumental. It is better for an agent to turn down a job where they feel the two parties/personalities do not match. Always better to have like-minded individuals working together, and for this to happen, I have to rely on my people’s intuition skills, which I feel I have down to a science at this point. Of course, success comes when everyone is happy, and the content and brands are represented appropriately, and success is the outcome for everyone. Repeat clients are the most significant proof of this and what we strive for.
For More info: www.zeitgiestny.com