On Our Radar: Natasha Koifman

Natasha Koifman is on top of the world. President of one of North America’s biggest PR companies — the Toronto-based NKPR — she works with the most influential initiatives and the brightest of stars. Though she has an office in New York and is about to expand to LA as well,Koifman has made Toronto proud by helping to put us on the map like no other public relations firm has done before. Novella sat down with the mogul to listen to Koifman’s unique story, to get an insider’s look at the crazy world of PR and to hear her argument against the “fluffiness” that’s so often attributed to her industry. Read about why adding Koifman to our On Our Radar was a no-brainer.

Photo courtesy of NKPR

Cliché opening question: What triggered your interest in PR?

NK: When I first graduated, I moved to New York where I worked as a journalist for several years. This is where I had my first experiences working with publicists. I saw a huge opportunity to work in PR, translating my learnings from being on the receiving end of pitches into developing more strategic outreaches resulting in meaningful coverage and awareness for brands.

What’s NKPR’s definition of public relations?

NK: At NKPR, public relations is about bringing stories and issues of substance to the attention of North Americans. Our first question for a client is always, “What does success look like?” From there we develop tailored strategies and tactics that ensure our communications programs come full circle and secure results that drive our clients’ brands forward.

NKPR is the giant of Toronto’s highly competitive PR landscape. How do you plan on keeping and increasing this momentum?

NK: I believe that it’s so important to always innovate and to challenge ourselves to evolve, ensuring we don’t get stagnant and that we’re delivering meaningful results for our clients. Last year we launched our talent division, representing artists we feel passionate about, including Dancing with the Stars competitor and Olympic gold medalist Nastia Liukin, fashion photographer Sophie Elgort and Coveteur co-founder and fashion designer Erin Kleinberg, to name a few. In addition to our Toronto and New York offices, we’re planning on opening a third location in LA.

What’s your ultimate goal for NKPR? Have you met it already?

NK: My goal for NKPR was always to combine my two passions: shining a spotlight on stories of substance and supporting causes that are making a difference around the world. I’m really proud of the work we’ve been able to do so far for our clients and also for the philanthropic organizations we support. That said, I think it’s so important to set new goals as learning and growing should happen for every person, no matter their role or position, every single day.

What does it take to do your job, and do it so well?

NK: It takes an incredible team! I work with some of the most hardworking and talented individuals in the industry who challenge me and inspire me every day. It also takes Amanda, who’s the best executive assistant in the world! She is my other half and keeps me organized no matter which city I’m in. I also wake up very early every morning to meditate and reflect on the day to come, which keeps me balanced and lets me clear my head before I start answering emails.

Photo courtesy of NKPR

Pubic relations is often viewed as an industry that involves a lot of sugar-coating, a lot of cheese, a lot of fake smiles — is there any truth to this? How do you combat these opinions?

NK: I think what has allowed us to grow into the agency that we are, is that we’re incredibly hardworking and strategic in all that we do. Every recommendation we provide to our clients is deliberate and is made to help generate awareness and drive their brand forward. I think our proven track record of delivered results combats and misconceptions that our field is exclusively about air-kissing and going to parties. My favourite part of PR is actually doing the work. I’m an introvert, so for me, the party isn’t the fun part — it’s the work leading up to it.

You’ve worked closely with Toronto’s most well-known movers and shakers, as well as icons from around the world. Who have you learned the most from?

NK: I’ve learned a lot from my dear friend Paul Haggis, who is an Academy Award-winner and founder of Artists for Peace and Justice (APJ), a charity that supports education in Haiti. I am so fortunate that I have had the opportunity to work with Paul in supporting this organization. His unwavering passion and commitment to the people of Haiti is inspiring. I’m in awe every single day of the work that APJ is able to do. Each time I visit the first free high school that APJ built in Port-au-Prince, I’m reminded of the power of education and the difference it can make for those who wouldn’t normally have access to it. Paul opened my mind and world to this.

Favourite place to spend your day off in Toronto?

NK: At home! I always joke that I’m an introvert living an extrovert’s life. I love to recharge at home by my pool with my two dogs.

You must have tons of stories to tell — care to share?

NK: We launched APJ at TIFF (and have since gone on to raise over five million dollars through festival initiatives alone!) and one of my favourite memories was the first red carpet event we ever did for the organization. It was during TIFF 2009, before the earthquake hit and when most people couldn’t even find Haiti on a map. We built a live-art red carpet with artist Peter Tunney where talent including Colin Farrell, Kim Cattrall and Olivia Wilde dipped thier feet in red paint and walked on a canvas “red carpet” that was auctioned off for charity. It was an incredible vision, and one that I remember very fondly. When they finished walked the carpet, we had pedicure stations to take care of their toes!

On Our Radar: Sofar Sounds Toronto

Crowd at a Sofar Sounds night in Toronto

Ever feel like listening to live music without hearing all the chitter chatter from a big venue? Well, Sofar Sounds brings together music lovers from all over the world in an intimate setting, where the focus lies solely between you and the music. Novella talked to Brandon Lablong, one of the producers of Sofar Sounds Toronto, and talked about how Toronto has responded to the intimate setting shows, the bands that have already performed with Sofar and how you can get exclusively invited to the private shows that are scattered throughout Toronto.

Read about Sofar Sounds Toronto, our first feature for the ‘On Our Radar’ segment, and find out why they top our list.

Tell me a little bit about Sofar Sounds and why you decided to bring it to Toronto.

Brandon: Sofar Sounds Toronto produces secret, invite-only concerts in intimate settings (including people’s living rooms) where dedicated music fans can discover their new favourite sound from both local and international artists. We put on shows once a month, letting members of our mailing list sign up for spots on the first of each month. Admission is limited, with room for 80 people or less, and we frequently sell out within minutes (our waiting list gets pretty long). The show venue is only revealed 24 hours before showtime and guests only find out the featured musicians once they arrive.

Run by a dedicated team of volunteers who are passionate about music, our goal at Sofar Sounds Toronto is to bring a truly unique experience that not only showcases great local and international talent, but also introduce serious music fans to interesting venues and locations around the city they might never have been before.

Is the goal just to work with local bands from our city? Or would you be open to bringing in other local bands from all over the world?

Brandon: We’re very open to welcoming bands from all around the world. Our goal is to provide opportunities for bands to get exposed by the international soundscape and to open the ears of music fans to new sounds from around the globe. Our music selection is like choosing a dish off a menu. There is amazing Canadian cuisine but you’re missing out if you don’t try a new flavour every once in a while.

At each of our shows we have a professional audio technician, photographer and videographers. We produce audio tracks and video for each band that gets put on our international YouTube and SoundCloud pages. Our YouTube channel has over 62,000 subscribers from around the world and is among one of the most highly viewed music channels on YouTube. In March, we actually got a million hits!

I recently interviewed a singer-songwriter from Toronto who has had more luck in Europe. He’s said that the difference between the European audience and Toronto audience is that they actually stop and listen to the music, whereas Toronto treats band nights as a social gathering – people catching up with friends. Do you agree? Do you think Sofar Sounds can change the way Toronto listens to music?

Brandon: It’s funny you say that. One of the comments we get from our bands is how eerie it is to perform to a quiet, attentive audience. I tend to agree though that when people go out to a show, the music might be seen as ambiance more than the attraction. Although, as we’ve seen there is a strong contingent of music lovers who respect the craft and believe going to a concert is no different than walking through an art gallery or seeing a play. I think it largely comes down to value.  If someone values what they are getting, they will give it the attention it deserves. By limiting our attendance and holding back on revealing the venue and artists, we create a stronger demand for the product and therefore more value.

What has been the reaction in Toronto with hosting these music nights in an intimate setting?

Brandon: I think the reaction has generally been good. Having it in an intimate setting creates a very unique way for the audience and the artists to interact.

Which bands have you worked with already? 

Brandon: We’ve had a load of amazing bands already. Our February show featured Bellwoods, Kira May and Art & Woodhouse. Following that we hosted an International Women’s Day show in March with Stacey, Emma Lee and Katy Carswell. Finally, our latest show in April featured AHI, Nick Ferrio, Birds of Bellwoods and Ivory Hours.

How can our readers find out about one of the secret shows?

Brandon: Get on the Sofar Sounds newsletter by visiting sofarsounds.com. Sofar Sounds is now in more than 100 cities and we encourage you to check out a show not only in Toronto but whenever you visit one of these cities.

Anything else you’d like our readers to know?

Brandon: If you want to get involved, beyond attending a show, contact toronto@sofarsounds.com. We are always looking for new bands, people who want to host a show in their space (whether that’s a home or business) and volunteers to help with production.

Novella’s May Feature: On Our Radar

Toronto is a diverse city filled with an array of talent in various industries. From music to fashion to foodies to artists to entrepreneurs and even to tech-savvy individuals, who make our lives a little bit easier with just a simple ‘click’, there is no question that the amount of talent Toronto produces is not only impressive but inspiring.

on our radar

For the month of May, Novella will highlight certain Torontonians who are bringing positive and influencing change to our flourishing city each day. Starting today May 1st, keep track of the city’s inspiring entrepreneurs who are making headways not just in our neck of the woods but across the globe as well. Stay tuned for our special month feature – On Our Radar.

Fashion House

There’s a new kid on the block, and it is an eye-catching work of art. Located at 560 King Street West in the heart of the fashion district, Fashion House condos stand out against the city lights. Constructed by CORE Architects, along with Freed Developments, its red blinds and stacked building arrangement encompasses a heritage aspect while bringing the history of the old fashion scene into the present.

“The building is a homage to the fashion district, which was really the old garment district,” said Charles Gane, the principal architect at CORE Architects. “The red curtains are a nod to the past and the history of the area.”

YoEud9DZ1S0VdxItFjtx9xxH6eByj9Qz6IJ6PAav6Vk

In each lobby of the building, Freed collaborated with fashion designers to create murals, which added to the fashion aesthetic of the building. Designers like Smythe, Jay Godfrey, and the Beckermans were able to do something entirely unique, which was to highlight some of these designers’ favourite shoots and runway shows.

lZ36xLj6_xxDrLJsxJ7megMAQ-i7uIGepScH9jO_j70

Fashion House collectively delivers a snapshot, both outside and in, of fashion and how it changes and shapes the way design and architecture comes together.

“The packaging of the building, the stacked box look, is a good indication of how fashion has impacted the design of the structure,” Gane describes. “Packaging means something.”

In this project, Freed Developments wanted to create a destination in this building. It was also a way for the architects to create a sense of community with a twist of luxury by incorporating retailers such as Her Majesty’s Pleasure, The Keg Steakhouse & Bar, and Wilbur Mexicana, where the occupant of Fashion House can eat, shop and play.

1BnoV_WcKlZhsBq-4CBlKqAyl5IK1GbHewVA0PwIJQc

Be sure to visit this exquisite addition to our downtown, and hashtag #FashionHouse and #novellamag.

All photographs courtesy of CORE Architects 2015.

Spotlight South Africa: Chandelier

Article written by Amanda Storey & contributed  by Marina Koslock 

The tiny foyer of the Berkeley Street Theatre bustled as ticket holders waited for the doors to open, sipping on South African wine and munching on biltong (a signature snack of the country). Chandelier was about to begin, a 30-minute, multimedia performance by controversial artist Steven Cohon.

Steven Cohen in Chandelier – Photo by John Hogg

As one of the final installments of Spotlight South Africa, a three-week festival hosted by Canadian Stage, Chandelier promised to be one of the most unorthodox and striking of all six productions and it delivered. Through a strange and deeply moving performance, Cohen created a window through which Canadians could peer into the colour issue that still exists in South Africa, shining light onto the tough subject that many people wouldn’t want to see or discuss.

The show began with Steven Cohen himself entering the brightly lit, stark-white stage adorned in a glimmering chandelier tutu and ornate face paint. The artist wordlessly stumbled across the stage; stopping to strike poses as he went. This silent introduction went on for about 10 minutes as Cohen kept everyone entranced not only by his appearance, but also by the question of what this bizarre, beautiful presentation might be about.

The artist was eventually lifted into the air by a pulley and the lights went out, letting his illuminated costume cast patterns across the walls as music suddenly thundered. After returning to the ground, the artist walked up the stairs through the audience, still stumbling, relying on the star struck onlookers to assist him in climbing all the way to the top platform. Once Cohen reached the back of the theatre, the audience’s attention was directed to the stage again, where a large screen began showing Chandelier, a short documentary film Cohen produced back in 2001.

Steven Cohen in Chandelier. Photo by John Hogg
Steven Cohen in Chandelier – Photo by John Hogg

Chandelier was filmed during the destruction of a squatter camp in Newtown, Johannesburg. Dressed in the same sparkling ensemble, Cohen enters the camp. His wobbly steps and bewitching presence have a similar effect on the people of the camp as it did on his Torontonian audience. Confused and amazed, the homeless citizens belonging to the camp were temporarily distracted from the horror surrounding them as they observed this strange creature walking and posing amongst them.

The film’s last scene is a shot of three of the camp’s residents, one of whom is a young woman. She tells the camera that Cohen’s presence “was like Jesus.” Once the film ended, the Berkeley Street Theatre audience sat stricken. From start to finish, the entire half-hour presentation had been deeply moving in an unexpected and bizarre way, which is Cohen’s common style of inflicting a message.

After the performance, audience members were invited to a brief talk with Cohen, during which the artist further discussed the work and the meaning behind it. Colour privilege is still very much alive in South Africa, even now, over a decade after Chandelier was filmed. Cohen, being born “into whiteness,” says he has always carried the heritage of the chandelier a symbol he uses for the European heritage that exists in South Africa.

Steven Cohen in Chandelier. Photo by John Hogg.2
Steven Cohen in Chandelier – Photo by John Hogg

“By my moving in a chandelier-tutu through a squatter camp being demolished, and filming it, [I’m creating] a digital painting of a social reality, half beautifully imagined, half horribly real,” says Cohen. “Where Hollywood glamour meets concentration camp horror.”

Cohen, who was trained professionally in psychology, says his intent for this project was to give a voice to the people of Newtown. In all his works, Cohen tries to use performance to hand power to people, and then analyze their reaction to his vulnerability versus their newfound power a “power switch.”

Chandelier, in all its weird and meaningful artistry, did exactly what Cohen meant it to. It effectively made an impact on its audience, who were left deeply pondering the issues they were just exposed to through his performance. Cohen, whose bold public statements and controversial artistry have become famous (particularly Cok/Cock, his “uninvited public intervention” in Paris that ended in his arrest on charges of sexual exhibitionism), wanted to painfully and beautifully bring awareness to this horrid part of humanity that so often goes unnoticed, and using unique and memorable artistic methods, which he successfully accomplished.