Studio Visit

Rachael Hart of The Establishment Studios and Hart & Co.

Lucy Feagins
Lucy Feagins
26th of April 2013
Details from the Melbourne studio / office of Hart & Co, a creative agency run by Rachael Hart.  Photo - Sean Fennessy.
Rachael Hart flicks through her photographers' folios.  Photo - Sean Fennessy.
Rachael Hart of Hart & Co in her Prahran studio.  Photo - Sean Fennessy.
I have got to say, as someone who has never really had a 'grown up' job, I have such incredible admiration for today's interviewee.  Rachael Hart runs Hart & Co, her own creative management agency, representing a select group of highly skilled Australian photographers, stylists and creatives.  Aside from this, Rachael also runs The Establishment Studios in Prahran - a studio space and props hire business she founded in 2011 with stylist Glen Proebstel. As it happens, in a typically Melbourne coincidence, I went to the same high school as Rachael.. and I know for certain that she is much younger than me (I'm 32), so it's safe to say that Ms Hart has a lot to show for her <30 years on the planet!   After working for four years as a booker / producer for respected Melbourne creative agent Katrina Herschell, Rachael launched Hart & Co at the start of last year and hasn't looked back.  She now has twenty talented creatives on her books - a tightly edited team who truly represent the very best in each of their respective fields.  They include photographers Sharyn Cairns, Mark Roper and Jaclyn Adams, and of course respected interiors stylist  Glen Proebstel. Despite her incredible achievements over the past few years, like many creative businesspeople, Rachael's career has not been without a few unexpected twists and turns!  Soon after finishing high school she moved away from home to pursue her passion for dressage horse riding - a physically and emotionally challenging time which really instilled in Rachael an incredible work ethic and sense of personal responsibility.  As she outlines below, it was during this time that Rachael learnt many of the life lessons that drive her business today. These days Rachael's job means wearing many hats on a daily basis.  On any given day she'll be taking bookings, liasing with clients and her creatives, quoting, producing photo shoots and working with her team to keep studio running smoothly.  Sounds pretty awesome! Massive thanks to Rachael for sharing her inspiring story with us today - so many brilliant pearls of wisdom here, a must read for any budding photographers, stylists or creative business people out there...!
Tell us a little bit about your background – what did you study, and what path led you to what you're doing now?
If you had asked me back in my teens if I wanted to be a creative agent, I would have replied; What’s that? It took three years juggling full-time work and a double degree in business/psychology before I finally figured out that I was not cut out for a normal office job. It took me a while to come to that realisation though, and I spent my formative years training as a dressage rider in the hopes of pursuing that to the highest level. When I finished school I moved out of home and took a position as a working student with horse trainer and Olympic Dressage Rider Hayley Beresford. During that 12 months I helped Hayley run her stable of about 10 horses, taking care of the general stable activities and competing on the weekends. I learnt about work ethic and drive. It was physically and emotionally draining work and I discovered a lot about myself during that time. Good things and bad things. but most importantly I learnt that there are really no limits, just those that you impose upon yourself. When Hayley moved home to Perth I went back to Melbourne and took a break from full-time competition to focus on my future. I went back to university to do a double degree in psychology and business management, which is something I had always had an interest in and studied in VCE. I kept up with riding and worked 2 jobs to pay for the horses on top of studying full time. There was a lot of late night last minute essay writing that’s for sure! After 2 years of juggling horses and uni and being a bit miserable, I finally admitted to myself that a 9-5 job was not for me, I wanted to work in a more creative field. I began assisting a few of the fashion stylists represented by creative agency Katrina Herschell Management. After a few jobs, Katrina asked me to come and interview for a position within the agency, so I started working on the booking desk with her. I worked at the agency with Kat for 3 years and was very incredibly lucky to have learnt the trade from her. She was an indelible influence and taught me so much about the industry. From how to put folios together to quoting jobs to liasing with artists and structuring your business so you can survive!  She was a truly incredible agent and mentor. When I am in a tricky situation I’ll often think back to my days with her; how would Katrina have handled this conundrum? After I left KHM I partnered up with stylist Glen Proebstel whom we had represented at KHM. We launched Prop’d from a great warehouse in Footscray - a prop hire business that catered to food and lifestyle stylists. Throughout this time I continued to work with photographers and did a fair bit of freelance production as well.
A shoot from two of Hart & Co's most talented creatives - Homewares trends for Inside Out magazine, stylist - Glen-Proebstel, photo - Sharyn Cairns.
It must be said, it is SO seriously impressive having built such a respected business given you are still relatively young! Did you always have a burning ambition to run your own agency, and how did the opportunity arise to launch Hart & Co?
Well I am not sure about impressive or anything like that, and I don’t feel that young most days! I think I always knew I would start my own agency but I wasn’t ready to make that commitment until last year. One of the things I love about running an agency is the relationships you develop with the artists, we are really like a family. I spend more time on the phone to my creative team than I do to my parents. I will take my work home with me, and with that also the highs and lows. The agency is my life now and it is a long-term commitment for me. I needed to make sure I was ready for it, which is why I had a bit of a break and worked on some different things. I had always thought that it would be an ideal partnership to run a studio alongside an agency so when the space in Prahran became a reality for the props business it all seemed perfect. There were a few artists I had worked with previously who had approached me about working with them and helping with promotion and folio work, so it was a natural extension to build the agency from there. Once I decided to launch my own agency I wanted to make sure I did it properly. I commissioned studio duo duo to do the branding and web design. Most importantly I made sure I stayed true to the ethos and vision I had for the agency, I wanted to only look after artists who are passionate about what they do, have a strong style and produce high quality beautiful work. If you expect that of everyone around you then you need to produce that yourself so that always keeps me motivated.
Shoot for Delicious Magazine by Mark Roper of Hart & Co, and stylist David Morgan.
It must have felt like quite a leap, taking on the premises in Prahran, and launching The Establishment Studios and your own business concurrently. Did you feel a sense of fear about all this? How did you muster up the courage to take the leap!?
It was a big leap for sure, not just financially. Glen and I knew that it was such a great opportunity to grow the business and diversify into other areas but at the same time it was still a big move. It also happened very quickly. From the time we found out this building was available for lease it was less than two weeks until we had signed on the dotted line! No time for second thoughts! We moved in on Dec 28th 2011 and The Establishment Studios was born, I then officially launched Hart & Co. in February 2012. I have always been a pretty optimistic person. Optimism allows you take risks but also helps you confront any eventuality so I knew if things had gone pear shaped I’d be no worse off for trying. I didn’t want to be left wondering what might have been. I must say that I could not have done it without the never ending support from my husband and my family, they are always available for me with advice, cuddles and coffee!
Details from the Melbourne studio / office of Hart & Co, a creative agency run by Rachael Hart.  Photo - Sean Fennessy.
Your core business is your agency, but you also co-run The Establishment Studios and Props with Glen Proebstel. How do you find juggling these various intertwined businesses – is there a particular system you work within to structure your workload across each business?
The early days were intense. Glen and I have spent many weekends at the studio having meetings, painting floors, rearranging furniture and preparing the space for clients. On top of that I have had many late nights getting the agency up and running and managing the book work for each business. Things are a bit easier now but I think the only way I am able to manage both business is because I have great help. Glen and I are very supportive of each other’s careers and commitments outside of The Establishment so that is crucial. We have a full-time studio manager Carly Spooner who pretty much runs the show in the studio, and then I have a great booker, Nadia Towart, who helps the keep the office running. The other things I could not live without are a great bookkeeper and lists. I use a complex calendar system that manages all the creative bookings, as well as all my personal and work related tasks. At any one time we could have up to 30 projects on the go from big car brochure shoots to managing the hair and make-up artists' multiple commitments during fashion week, so keeping on top of everything is very important.
A campaign shoot for Melbourne bedlinen brand Aura, stylist - Glen Proebstel, photo - Sharyn Cairns.
What does a typical day in the life of Rachael Hart involve?
I'm at the office at about 8.00am each day for 30 minutes of quiet time to make my lists and have a coffee before everyone else arrives. Once the day is underway I liaise with Carly my studio manager about things coming up, and also with my booker at the agency, Nadia, about what needs to be done that day. From there I am mostly on the phone and email with the clients and the creatives, taking bookings, managing jobs, doing quotes, and general production for whatever job I am working on. For example at the moment I am managing a big car shoot so we are juggling crew, weather, cars, transport, accommodation and all sorts of things to get it together on a daily basis! I also really love working on the artists’ folios and putting together images and promotions, making the flow of images through a folio work so that on the whole it becomes more than each image… it’s a really enjoyable process. A bit like putting a jigsaw together! Sometimes I will need to head out on pre-production meetings, recce, or folio meetings with clients. I go to shoots as often as possible. I love it in the office but it is really great to be on location to work with the crew, early mornings, lugging gear, helping any way I can and being a part of getting the shot is really what it is all about.
Rachael at her desk.  Photo - Sean Fennessy.
Which Australian creative people are you loving at the moment?
I work with 20 incredibly talented artists, who are leaders in their fields and love being a part of all the new work that they complete! If I had to look outside of the agency I really love Anna-Wili Highfield’s sculptures. I am drawn to her because the first pieces I saw of hers were her Hermès horses… but all of her work is pretty incredible. We are lucky enough to have a relationship with lighting designer Christopher Boots, who has fitted The Establishment Studios with his lights, they are incredible pieces of design. Love our man Matthew Collins from Art and Interiors who completed my wall in my office as well as various other surfaces in our studio. He is incredible with textures, hand made wall papers and pretty much any surface finish! I love Aussie band Husky, the lead singer Chasky Gawenda is an amazing songwriter and they are working on their next album now so am keen to get my hands on that.
A shoot for Elle Decoration UK from Hart & Co's Glen Proebstel and Sharyn Cairns.
Can you list for us 5 specific resources across any media that you turn to when you're in a need of a bolt of creative inspiration?
I really love watching the short documentary/films produced by Nowness, they are filmed so beautifully. Not only are the visuals beautiful but I find it really motivating hearing about other peoples stories. Dog Shaming is great for giggles. Paul Rand's books and website. I am still thinking of getting one of his cover designs as a tattoo! The Sartorialist for a fashion fix. I still ready heaps of magazines, I particularly love men’s magazines like Fantastic Man and Smith Journal. I tend to like the design of these mags more than the women's ones. I cant go past The Gentlewoman either for a bit of inspiration about what other women out there are doing.
What would be your dream creative project?
I have been planning to put together a Hart & Co. broadsheet since I started the agency. I represent so many amazing creative artists with such a broad skill base from journalism through to film direction, I think if we collated all those ideas and skills we could produce a really interesting piece of work!
Another shoot from Hart & Co's Glen Proebstel and Sharyn Cairns.
What are you looking forward to?
I think I am generally looking forward to the future… continuing to grow the agency and the studio and see where that takes me and my team.
A food shoot by Hart & Co photographer Sharyn Cairns.

Melbourne Questions

Your favourite Melbourne neighbourhood and why?
I do love Prahran, it seems to be changing a bit at the moment, lots of great new cafés and restaurants, there seems to be always something new to try out.
What and where was the last great meal you had in Melbourne?
I prefer a casual bistro meal over anything too high end. I really enjoyed my last meal at Bistro Gitan and I am afraid I can’t go past a burger at Parlour Diner on Chapel Street!
Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?
If I am not at the office catching up on things, or on a shoot, I am most likely having a late, lazy breakfast with my husband at one of our locals - either Hawk & Hunter or Follow the Leader in Glen Eira.
Melbourne's best kept secret?
My parent’s property and B&B in Shoreham Hart's Farm. I try and spend as much time there as possible!
Details from the Melbourne studio / office of Hart & Co.  Photo - Sean Fennessy.

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