From selling jeans in his father’s shops to founding communications behemoth ModusBPCM, Julian Vogel takes us on a whistle-stop tour of his career so far – and explains how Kate Moss, a pair of Birkenstocks and an iconic magazine cover created the moment that sparked his rise from local to global concern.
Tell us how it all started.
I grew up in London where my father was the marketing director of Levi’s while my mum had been an art director for an advertising agency in the 60s, working with photographers like Norman Parkinson and David Bailey. So being surrounded by fashion, design and photography made me very aware, early on, of that world. This, together with a fascination for magazine publishing – I loved the articles, adverts and photography in fashion magazines and Sunday supplements like The Sunday Times, meant that I had a precocious interest and understanding of the relationship between brands and the media.
Then, when I was in my teens, my dad had a chain of jeans stores. In the school holidays, I was roped into the family business, doing everything from unpacking boxes to merchandising the stock to working in the shop and selling.
Given this upbringing, perhaps it’s no surpise that I studied business and marketing. By my final year my twin brother, who had studied art, graduated to become a textile designer, and through him I met Anna Morel from one of the leading London fashion PR agencies. I used to bunk off my accountancy lectures to work with her on show productions. It was the mid 80s and London Fashion Week was at one of its peaks, with designers including John Galliano, Bodymap, Vivienne Westwood and Rifat Ozbek. I worked backstage, calling out the models’ names: Linda, Naomi, Cindy, Yasmin. And because my dad had these shops he would get a buyer’s pass for London Fashion Week, so when I was 16 I was wandering around trade shows seeing how the industry worked, meeting designers and not really realising that it would lead to a career.
Later, I went to work for Jean Bennett, who invented fashion PR – Ab Fab was based on her and Lynne Franks – and that’s when I met my first business partner, Diana Hall. I had a year’s experience and I was 22, and rather arrogantly said that if it all worked out I wanted to be a partner after a year. And that’s what actually happened. So, at the age of 23 I became a third owner in a PR agency that at the time was probably turning over about £20,000.
What do you think it is about your approach, especially specifically early on? You really turned it into quite a powerhouse in London.
Because I’d studied marketing and my first business partner, Diana, studied journalism, we used our different skills and approached communications in a very strategic way. What do the clients need? What are their business objectives? We have always worked with inspiring people and wonderful brands but we chose our clients carefully, working with brands where we could make a difference and add value.
And maybe to grow with them as well?
Exactly: you learn what not to do as well as what to do. So strategy, story telling and building relationships are paramount. We were involved in every part of their marketing plans, even getting involved with product development and becoming an extension of the company.
Which of those clients were the game-changers?
At the beginning, it was a cohort of young designers but then we started working with the Natural Shoe Store, who happened to distribute Birkenstocks. In 1990 we worked on that iconic Kate Moss 3rd Summer of Love cover for The Face…
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