Damien Eley is the Co-Founder of Mistress, an internationally awarded creative agency based in LA. Since launching in 2010, Mistress has continually made headlines for their diverse work with brands including Netflix, Discover LA, Tripadvisor, Redbull, WSL, Finlandia and many more. A native of Australia, Damien and Mistress Co-Founder Scott Harris have worked in Sydney, New York and London before launching Mistress in Los Angeles. We spoke to Damien about creative life in California, building a global creative culture and fried shrimp tacos.
ON WHERE YOU’RE FROM
The Can. Canberra. Australia’s finest city and a great place to grow up. As soon as I could though, I moved to Bronte in Sydney.
ON WHERE YOU’RE LIVING IN LA
My young family live in Mar Vista, just across the border from Venice. It’s the most awesome family neighborhood to be in. It’s LA’s best kept secret. All of our friends live within a few minutes’ walk. We live at each others’ houses over the weekends, look after each others’ kids, dogs etc. It’s awesome.
ON WINDOW SEAT OR AISLE
I’m militantly OCD about having to have a window. I like tucking myself in the corner and tuning out.
ON THE BEST NEW WORD YOU’VE HEARD IN LA
Bougie. It’s suddenly become bougie to be bougie.
ON HOW LIFE IN NEW COUNTRIES HAS INFLUENCED YOU
As fundamentally as it gets. I have worked in Sydney (as the first creative team at an amazing start-up, mentored by the best in the business, that went on to become one of Australia’s great agencies – BMF), in NYC (at Ogilvy which, at the time, was one of the best of the big agencies in the world), and at the incomparable Mother in London. At Mother, it felt like you were at a university of creativity with people from all over the world busting their guts to come there and prove themselves. We wanted to create a similar global culture for Mistress and we have. We have nearly 50% of our agency that is from somewhere other than the US and it helps our outlook immeasurably.
ON YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH LA
I’m proud of how LA, and California, is standing up to the immigration philosophies and environmental backwardness coming from the Trump administration.
California just surpassed the UK to become the 5th biggest economy in the world and it really feels like you’re living in a society that has the forward-thinking clout to change things. As much as I still consider myself a proud and knowledgeable and connected Australian, I’m proud of how California just keeps moving forward – in stark contrast to the hand-wringing, reactionary culture that has formed as a result of two generations of political impotence in Australia.
We have nearly 50% of our agency that is from somewhere other than the US and it helps our outlook immeasurably.
ON WHAT INSPIRES YOU IN LA
I’d expand on that feeling of pride of being in a distinctly inclusive culture that is accepting to everyone. It really is so palpable and positive.
I felt personally privileged to be able to work with LA in response to Trump’s travel bans. We were in the middle of a big traditional global campaign to advertise the city to the world when the travel ban dropped and we worked with our client on how LA could react. Using volunteers from LA’s diverse immigrant communities, we created human-powered billboards in four different languages, and worked the flight control from the LAX to line the right language up to the incoming plane. We put cameras on planes arriving from China, the Middle East, Mexico and Australia which was a crazy logistical feat. From that moment we’ve been creating content using the metaphor of the paper plane to showcase LA’s diversity.
ON THE NAME MISTRESS
Mistress is more than a name, it’s a concept.
We started out as an agency offering to ‘come in on the side’ and offer big brand thinking to a project that didn’t need to be a long term relationship. In 2010, it was a ‘fundamental unmet need’ as far as clients were concerned. It allowed us to take on a small project for Mattel that turned into a massive project for Hot Wheels.
The work over three years won lots of awards and put Mistress on the map. This notion of following the fundamental unmet need has seen us be able to pivot in several directions since then.
ON FOUNDING MISTRESS IN LOS ANGELES
Scotty (my creative partner of 21 years, since BMF days) and myself were in London when we got approached by an old friend from our time in New York. We were thinking of getting out of the UK and he and few friends wanted to get out of NY. Australia was in Scotty’s and my considerations but we couldn’t help but think that if we set our sights on a bigger market in the States we could achieve more diverse things. LA at the time was seen as a relative backwater when compared to NY and SF. But we couldn’t help but feel that it had so much untapped potential, with the world of production and tech at your fingertips. Nine years later it seems like that was a good bet as LA is on fire and the place to be.
ON A RECENT LA DISCOVERY
Fried shrimp tacos: Minced prawns deep fried in a tortilla. The tortilla and outside layer of prawn are crispy, but the interior prawn mixture is hot and juicy. Amazeballs.
LA is tougher than you’d think and way more different than you’d expect.. You think you know it from everything you’ve seen but American culture is as different as any other foreign culture in the world.
ON THE TRANSITION FROM LONDON TO LA
The biggest transition was the work we were doing. When we left London in 2010 the advertising culture very much revolved around TV. One of the first things we did with Mistress was a five-part TV show for Red Bull and then followed that with a huge experiential and branded content campaign for Hot Wheels where we were building cars from scratch and breaking world records. LA definitely was a big factor in us being able to do that kind of work.
ON LA CREATIVE CULTURE
Quite honestly, LA is the the place to be if you are a creative. At Mistress we definitely feel the (good) pressure from the world of tech. We are constantly learning and testing the latest products from the social platforms. And the might and breadth of the world of production around us means that we literally have no excuse to not be able to do whatever creative idea we come up with.
ON WHERE YOU FIND INSPIRATION
Mistress is one of only a couple of commercial companies in the middle of an enclave of art galleries at Bergamot Station in Santa Monica. I get out a couple of times a day and just walk through a couple of the 20 or so galleries. Also, I still rely on the shower as a place to think.
ON ADVICE FOR MOVING TO LA
Be prepared to potentially pay more than you planned to for a place to live – for a place that delivers what you came to LA looking for (Westside for the beach, Silverlake/Echo Park for the hipster edginess, Downtown for the scale). LA is tougher than you’d think and way more different than you’d expect so it’s important to feel happy while you sort the big stuff out. You think you know it from everything you’ve seen but American culture is as different as any other foreign culture in the world.
ON LA IN ONE WORD
ON LA’S BEST KEPT SECRET
Fried shrimp tacos.
ON LA’S WORST KEPT SECRET
Rodeo Drive. Its exactly like it is in Pretty Woman.
ON A GOOD EVENT
The annual Playboy Jazz Festival at Hollywood Bowl. The most awesome, diverse crowd that reminds you of the incredible diversity of this city. A Dodgers game is also good for that. A late-night karaoke session in East Hollywood also delivers.
ON SOMETHING FROM AUSTRALIA YOU NEED A FIX OF IN LA
Our house is always stocked with Vegemite and Bundy, supplied by visitors. I religiously still watch Australian sport late at night. Still watch every Brumbies game and always watch test cricket from wherever in the world we are playing. It’s tragic, really.
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