Amber Testino '87
Amber (Olson) Testino '87
Senior Agent, Art Partner
Who was your most influential teacher at ‘Iolani? Why?
Mr. Armstrong, Modern European History. He not only taught us history, he taught us how to think and organize and prioritize information; he made history understandable through a series of "watershed dates." Mr. Armstrong was such a serious and dignified man but he was also very funny, he used to mark my papers with a red skull and cross bone cartoon shouting "spelling!" (My spelling is still embarrassingly bad and I seem to have passed that trait on to my poor daughter.) Oh and Mr. Barry, see below!
In what ways has your ‘Iolani experience shaped your life after ‘Iolani?
Thanks to the education, the peers and the support at ‘Iolani, I was able to get into Georgetown University with a scholarship to continue my education. Georgetown had a particular "international" positioning, but really what helped me most was the strong basis I had in the French language. ‘Iolani's Mr. Barry was an amazing French teacher by any standard. He managed to teach French using only French, even from the very beginning. His teaching gave me an edge in university and I was accepted to the year abroad program in Lyon. Then, when I joined Art Partner, the ability to speak French was what led us to open our offices in Paris. Today, European clients are a major part of the agency's business.
What influences from your ‘Iolani experience do you bring to your business?
My time at ‘Iolani gave me the general skills and knowledge to succeed, but most importantly, ‘Iolani gave me the the habit, the reflex to work hard and give my all to something and the confidence that whatever I did, I could make it work. The truth is that I have never worked harder in my life than I did during my years at ‘Iolani! It wasn't easy, but it was incredibly rewarding. I think it's important for kids to know that to succeed does not mean you have to be "gifted" or born smart. It is just, how hard are you willing to work? How determined and how consistent are you? I'm not a person who learns quickly, I was slow at learning to read and had some dyslexia but at one point I made a decision to put in extra time and work harder. Maybe part of that was being a Stone Scholar: because of the financial situation, there was not a Plan B. But the feeling of a job well done, that is universal and achievable by anyone who is willing to go that bit extra.
How did you go from Stone Scholar at ‘Iolani to internationally known fashion industry agent?
Looking back, I can connect the dots, but at the time, the path did not seem at all clear! After university, I knew a lot of things I didn't want to do, but had no idea what I did want to do. I gave myself a year to sort things out (and to get some health insurance which was a big worry to me!) and took a job as a shop manager at a clothing store called Episode. From there I applied to the agency in NYC that did the brand's advertising. At the agency, I led photo shoot productions for a brand called Talbots for a few years, then felt I wanted more of a challenge and something more creative so I applied for an assistant fashion editor's job at Vogue. The experience at Vogue was incredible and exposed me to a very high level of creativity, but after a few years there I realized that clothes were not my calling; what I loved was the photography and production side. After a crazy year at an agency called the Arnell Group, a former colleague from Vogue called and asked me to join Art Partner to handle the production for Mario Testino. Within two years I made the jump from producing photo shoots to being an agent and had opened our Paris office. I don't ever remember asking myself if I could do any particular job, I just went for it 110 percent every time. I thank ‘Iolani for helping to build the confidence and work habits that allowed me to follow what I really liked, to not be bound to do something because I was worried I couldn't do anything else. That freedom is a great gift.
What's your most interesting project?
In the last year or so we have seen a new interest in iconic fashion photography from the art world. To respond to this we have been building a division of art edition print sales. It is a very new part of the business for us, but one that makes a lot of sense for the artists we represent. We are launching an exhibition next week in collaboration with Phillips auction house in London and what is great after so many years in the business, is to still be challenged and excited about doing something fresh and new.
What do you enjoy most about working in the fashion industry?
The people. They are the best and at the same time, the most challenging part of the business! The job of an agent is by definition to handle problems and put a lot of people with different agendas on the same page. There are always hurdles, but there are also exhilarating successes and it can be very energizing. Our agency is very much a team so the feeling of being part of a tight group woking to one goal is really nice.
What is the most important trait you need in order to succeed in your industry?
I would say that it is a rare combination of humility and ambition. Our side of fashion is about making deals and seeking opportunities, so you really need to have drive. But the "stars" of our industry are the artists, not the agents. So you need to work hard, give it your all and then step out of the spotlight. That suits me fine, I prefer to be working behind the scenes.
What are some key elements to creating a brand for one's self or one's business?
Having something to say is a big help! A brand positioning that is authentic and has a real point of view is always the most effective. Today with the internet and social media, it is also very important to understand the community you are part of. Communication is not one way anymore, it is two way a conversation across so many different platforms. Technology changes have hugely disrupted our business over the last five years, but there is no doubt that a strong image is still a crucial part of communicating a brand.
Amber (Olson) Testino started at ‘Iolani School as a Stone Scholar, commuting two hours each way to get to school. Since those humble beginnings, she has become an internationally known agent at Art Partner in Paris, working at the highest levels of the international fashion industry. The agency is now widely recognized as one of the foremost sources for creative talent for fashion, luxury and beauty and has partnered on advertising projects with clients such as Gucci, Stella McCartney , Chloe, Chanel Beauty, Balenciaga, Burberry, Givenchy, Versace, Michael Kors and Lancome as well as editorial projects such as French Vogue, American Vogue and i-D.
Alongside artist management and representation, the agency also offers full in-house digital strategy and distribution, content creation and production service from its offices in New York, London and Paris.