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arrash jalali, the cult of personality

Edited by: Cator Sparks
on June 28th, 2011
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My mama always told me to dress like you are going to a cocktail party for any occasion because you never know where you will end up. Well the day I went to interview Arrash Jalali, Creative Director of Cult Studios, we were experiencing a major heat wave. I couldn’t possibly don a tie or blazer so I settled on a tank top, shorts and huaraches I bought in Mexico City.

Upon entering this elegant and peaceful studio I saw Brad Goreski skipping about filming a reality show. He waves. I shrink. Then I see Details Fashion Market Editor Matthew Marden. He waves. All this fashion and here I am in open toed sandals!

Cult Studios is a serious force in the fashion world. With 8,000 square feet of floor space, a swanky lounge, private make-up and wardrobe suits as well as a conference room and café, here you don’t have that antsy feeling when you are away from the office all day. You can bring your office and take care of business between shoots. Cult also offers tailor made production amenities from retouching to rental equipment. Clients include Condé Nast, Estee Lauder and Baron & Baron to name a few.

 I sat down with Arrash Jalali to get a better feel of how all of this came into being.

First a bit of background on Arrash. Born in Southern California, he lived in Alaska, Oregon and on a 300-foot ship while growing up. Previously, his father was working for the Shah of Iran creating security systems for banks. While they lived life high on the hog, they were always under surveillance. Arrash’s mother got very tired of this lifestyle so fled to Australia and later to the U.S.

Arrash’s father was an inventor and was constantly creating, moving and learning. This yearning rubbed off on Arrash who moved to New York City in 1997.

When he arrived he lived in the Jane hotel, which was then a tranny hotel costing $50 a night. His friend suggested they hit the town to meet new people and hopefully find a home. By the end of the week (after a night sleeping in Central Park) they were in a room on Central Park West. Not too bad for seven days in the city.

From there he got involved in luxury retailing, publishing at YM and went back to school for his theater directing degree. When September 11th happened he took some time off and delved back into the arts by teaching dance. When an opportunity arose to work at Estee Lauder he took it. In his second week he was sent on a shoot and was all over the studio trying to do his best although he had never been on a shoot before. He drove the photographer nuts but it ended up a great shoot and Arrash worked his way up to Artistic Director at Estee.

Like his dad, Arrash was eager to learn more. In 2008 he contacted the retouching company, Urban Studio and asked them if they wanted to create a full stop studio space. They jumped on the idea. With three years under his belt and business booming, we asked Arrash to give us more insight to the studio.

You spent 150 days a year on set at your last job. How did that experience help you figure out how Cult needed to stand apart?

For the most part it is understanding the needs of clients on set since I was an Art Director for so long and could see the needs that needed to be tackled.

In the luxury world we often dumb down the studio experience. It lacked accommodation, flexibility and getting it all in one.

All those days I spent on shoots at Estee Lauder, I was noticing how things could be done differently. Sometimes the service end was really poor. I couldn’t talk about the shoot because the photographer is right there. You can’t go into the hall because everyone else is out there on their phones. I wasn’t as productive on these shoots. There was nowhere to sit, work and even eat. Our motto is "Productivity shouldn’t stop when you are out of the office.”

I wanted something like a boutique hotel where we can offer as much or as little service as they need. We partner on any level. Sometimes I gladly hand hold a client and other times I let them do their thing.

What made you ‘switch sides’ from being the client to being the studio?

I don’t think I changed my profession since I am working on new experiences to broaden my scope, from learning Japanese to traveling more and working in the arts. I am looking to do something different soon by consulting on a new nightlife space. Stay tuned!

Clearly everyone in here is having fun today. Tell us what experience you want clients to have.

They come here for the privacy, the attention to detail and the ease in which they get to inhabit the space. Clients enjoy making it their own. It’s amazing to see how quickly they are in the kitchen and enjoying being in a private space! In other studios you are on the clock and you have a certain amount of hours. Here they get to live in the space and that is a big difference.

We have had great feedback that clients have had the smoothest and best experience in our space.

Is Cult at the forefront of a new boutique studio trend? 

I haven’t seen anyone else doing this. It’s sort of like a private club with a small and exclusive membership. We aren’t in this to make gobs of money; we are here to make it unique and add to the creative process and support the artist and client. It’s not the business model everyone wants to be in. It has a personal touch and that takes more resources to achieve that.

What’s next babe?

CGI is growing, as is video production. Clients are constantly looking to take over the space. We did Project Runway here last year. They used the studio for their workspace for an episode. Video production is developing rapidly too. Clients may want help with online e-commerce or video content for their site and we are here to help! The studio is getting more and more popular as an events space as well.

For more on Cult Studios, visit CultStudiosNYC.com.


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