Forget crazy-colored hair and aggressive pierced/tattooed punk looks. Corporate America has a new alternative-culture darling: the quirky-cool nerd. These days gawk trumps rawk and skinny girls with glasses are sexier than video-vamp (l)asses — at least in the advertising world. LemonLime Agency’s Robin Harrington not only saw the change coming, she capitalized on the atypical talent trend at the perfect time. Her Eastside dwellings (her office is in Los Feliz and she lives in Glassell Park) seems to have had something to do with it too. “I can’t tell you how many times in a project breakdown — which is when they’re giving us a description of what they want for their commercials — they ask for a “Silver Lake type,” she says with a chuckle.
Rivers Cuomo and Rainn Wilson doppelgangers and freckled Carrie White ragdoll looks might be hot at the moment, but Harrington knows better than anyone that true uniqueness comes in all shades, sizes and styles, and her agency, while offering the boho geek du jour, is still one of the most diverse in L.A.
Of course, back when diverse meant “motley” (as in Crüe), her former company, Dragon Entertainment, was the go-to agency for ad execs looking to suck in edgy GEN X/Y consumers. You couldn’t hit up a rock show or dance club without bumping into some freaky kid who belonged to Dragon. It was in this world that Harrington’s work as an agent got its auspicous start.
“I was promoting parties at the time and somehow The Jerry Springer Show got my number,” she says. “They wanted me to find people for their show. I knew all the club kids and drag queens and so I was like, ‘Well, sure.’”
Harrington wrote up a proposal, asking to be paid for each person she could get, but when Springer ended up passing, she decided to forge her own path. “Dragon was for drag queens at first,” she says. “But it morphed into a place for punkers and hipsters and skaters and all kinds of alternative talents.”
Though she grew up in Long Beach, Hollywood had been beckoning Harrington since she was a teen. Sneaking out of her bedroom window to go to famed late-’80s teen clubs such as the Odyssey became a regular occurrence, and though she took a party-girl break while attending Loyola Marymount and Long Beach State, she returned in full force near the end of her studies, adopting various club kid-like guises and dressing up in wild ’n’ wigged Studio 54-style ensembles. She moved to a loft downtown and soon started throwing shindigs herself (Shaft, Blue and Mini-Truck), all of which had underground vibes, innovative (at the time) electro/retro soundtracks and flamboyant frocked regulars.
Later, when Dragon clients like Taco Bell and Pepsi wanted “that one person with pink hair — the one with the tattoos, or the drag queen,” she obviously had a full cache to choose from. “It was definitely the right idea at the right time.”
But times change. Harrington, who sports flame-red hair, now spends her free time doing yoga and watching Bollywood films. “I’m so uncool now,” she says, “it’s not even funny.” And yet when Harrington started seeing a dowdy-dude-next-door-look taking over, she was hip enough to realize that her company needed a make-under. She and longtime partner Chaim Magnum decided to shutter Dragon after 11 years last May, and in its place they created LemonLime with the tagline “talent with a twist.” Many former Dragons have stayed on with the new company, and despite its nerd niche, LL’s Web site offers a rainbow of fruity flavors. The new line-up of lookers might not stand out in the same way Dragon’s did, but make no mistake, in L.A.’s nightlife and music scenes, the people repped by Harrington are anything but wallflowers. Consider club promoter Mario Diaz, KXLU DJ Matthew Capozzoli, Matthew Frauman aka DJ Rare Matthew, and magic man Rob Zabrecky, to name a few of the faces.
Biggie clients and campaigns currently seen on TV include Pepsi Pass, T-Mobile, Honda, Denny’s and Hillshire Farms (all on www.youtube.com/lemonlimeagency). We ask her about the biggest “twists,” the types that get the most work from big companies like these, and she quickly runs off a list of looks and requests (“ambiguous ethnicity … real, kind of dorky-edge types … the hot girl that’s American Apparel-hot, not Pam Anderson-hot … the Dwell magazine couple … the electroclash kids … people who work in an office, but not corporate”).
She’s not so forthcoming when asked the obligatory “what’s next” question. “Everyone always wants to know that,” she says, refusing to give us the juice. “The market is always one step behind the street,” she does say. “We’re the middle man.”