Art Libera is playing matchmaker. As founder of Eye For Art, Inc., an agency established in 2000 that linked designers and artisans with manufacturers, he has long been acquainted with the ins and outs of the design and architecture material business. Yet as Libera and two new partners re-launch his company as Design Commerce Agency, a design licensing firm that connects high-end interior designers with retailers and manufacturers in need of innovative, luxury design, he is now aiming to revolutionize—and digitize—the way creatives collaborate.
With new partners Bryan Calkins, who has a background in design as well as technology, ecommerce, and online marketing, and Mark McDonough, who arrives with Internet technology and online marketing experience, the agency offers a suite of tailored digital marketing services, including website and brand refreshes, social media brand-building, content marketing strategy and paid online advertising consultation.
The DCA team
The bedrock below these services is the founding partner’s key relationships. “Licensing and product development are certainly about everybody making money, but first you have to craft the relationship so the designers do their best work, and press the manufacturers to get out of their comfort zone by stretching their capabilities,” explains Libera, who sources clients “the old-fashioned way,” by networking, talking and making introductions, and develops ideas by checking the pulse of product development in design showrooms, marketplaces, retail, trade shows and both print and social media.
In addition to interior designers, Libera counts among the firm’s clients “a compelling mix of talents” including fine artists, decorative artists, textile designers, floral designers and photographers—and while some are famous and others are not, Libera says, each is successful in his or her own right. The time it takes to align a designer or artist and a fitting manufacturer varies, he says, but in general, making a match, creating a licensing and marketing plan and bringing a product to market takes about a year, possibly two.
The agency operates on a performance-based payment system, collecting a percentage on signed licensing contracts, and also provides fee-based social media services and certain fee-based consulting services both for clients and on a case-by-case basis. “We get paid when our clients get paid,” says Libera. “I’m not sure it’s the best way to do things, but it’s worked since I formed my original company, and has really helped our clients trust me because we’re all making an investment of time and energy together to create lasting and lucrative partnerships.”
Libera's collaborators, design team Evans & Brown
Social media is exerting a particularly powerful impact on both design and the transformed agency. “Social media has become so much more visual since platforms like Tumblr, Pinterest and Instagram have taken off,” explains partner Calkins. One early sign of social media’s promise at DCA: “After only eight months of social media strategy and execution for Roger [Thomas], he was nominated for three Best of Year Awards by Interior Design magazine. Even though he is a four-time AD 100 winner, he's never been nominated for a BOY Award.” The win is thanks, in part, to “the wonderful design exposure [that] happened naturally through social media.” (View Thomas' Facebook page.)
Roger Thomas; leathers from Thomas' leather new line for Moore & Giles
One of the agency’s success stories, and one of Libera’s long-running licenses, is Koroseal, the commercial wallcovering manufacturer. “About 20 years ago I made the connection that American commercial wallcovering was not very attractive, and designs were created from a more ‘manufacturing’ point of view,” he recalls. “It was really simple: Pair up the best American designers of specialty wallcoverings with the best American manufacturer.”
Fromenal founders; Roacaille by Fromental for Koroseal Digtial Studios
Libera’s pairings included Evans & Brown, Maya Romanoff, Sondra Alexander, Anya Larkin, Tracey Reinberg and Roger Thomas, and he also aided in bringing the Belgian manufacturer Arte’ and Alpha Workshops into the fold. The resulting program, called Koroseal Studios, “changed the entire industry as well as the aesthetic and the marketing ‘story’ of this product category.” Among Libera’s favorite collaborations to date include Roger Thomas and Rocky Mountain Hardware, Samuel & Sons, as well as Mark Pollack, Lori Weitzner and Todd Lenahan; while he can’t yet reveal the agency’s most recent ventures, he does concede collaborations with Vicente Wolf, Clodagh and Preston Bailey.
The re-launched agency, itself founded on a new idea, is banking on the importance of exactly that: new, and often outlier, perspectives. “Sometimes,” shares Libera, “it really does take an outsider artist or designer to bring a new point of view and develop a winning series of designs and products.”