Jennifer Gonzalez laughs when I comment on her together-ness. Although her world may feel chaotic, her calm and controlled nature suggests otherwise. Speaking modestly and methodically about her journey, it’s clear this steadfast approach has quietly yet surely helped her along the way. In 2008 at 24-years-old, Jennifer co-founded the creative agency Hugo & Marie with her now husband Hugo. From humble beginnings with no industry experience, Hugo & Marie now represent an impressive roster of artists and clients, including Stella McCartney, Shiseido, and RocNation. Jennifer’s dedication to work is only rivaled by family: she lights up when speaking about baby daughter August, and when asked how she finds working with Hugo, she replies “We just really like each other a lot.”
Before Hugo & Marie I was a women’s wear designer at J.Crew. I had pursued fashion design my whole life, but the industry glamour was dampened by the realities of designing clothes with mass appeal. I became more interested in what happened behind the scenes, and started researching the business side of production. At the time Mario had just left an agency to work independently and his work was quickly gaining popularity. We’d already been in a relationship for years, and spent hours talking about starting something. We began working together at night and on weekends until I had to make a decision about what I really wanted to do—I didn’t want to do things half way, I needed to commit. It was a real struggle to leave J Crew.. I had a great position at a well respected company—why would I leave that?
We had no money, no credibility, little experience—
but we decided we didn’t need much to live off of, so we went for it. I was really excited about doing my own thing, but it’s difficult teetering on the edge of security. In the movies when someone quits their job, they wake up with a sense of freedom and release. It must have been a hectic time because I don’t remember it being like that—I don’t remember much about the first day or few weeks. Getting into an industry I knew nothing about and had no connection to was difficult. I had little grasp on business, management, negotiation, sales.
Not only did I feel young because I was young, I knew I needed more experience and felt I should just listen for a while.
Which is what I did—I kept my ear open to anything that I could: meetings, phone calls, conversation—anything that could help prepare me for what I was trying to do. It’s stuck with me… even now I try and be very conscious of others, and I’m always listening closely to our audience and clients. I certainly learned from the times when I didn’t listen—there’s that youthful arrogance when you get the hang of something and think you know what you’re doing. Fortunately, it diminishes as you get older.
In the early days, I found myself immersed in a world where artists weren’t being paid properly for their work. I became fascinated with commercial art and how creatives could be paid to do the things they loved. That sensibility was completely new for me, it was something I’d never given much thought before. I started researching art production and what that means for creatives, how people are able to make a living doing what they love to do, which has led me to what I do today: I produce really artful creative projects for clients.
After working with Mario for this long, I can’t imagine it any other way. Of course there can be stress and frustration, but most things are good. One of the reasons we started the company is because we wanted to spend our time together. The traditional ‘kiss at the subway stop and I’ll see you tonight’ routine was upsetting—to be funneled into that life. A lot of people think we’re nuts to work together, but it feels natural. We knew the distance we experienced from committing to a traditional career was not for us. To make it work, we’re very careful about respecting one another in both relationship and professional contexts. You can’t just get married and coast—in life, in business. It takes effort and hard work, especially now that we have a baby.
We always wanted kids but have always been obsessed with our work. I’ve noticed that New Yorkers tend to wait a bit before starting a family, but I decided I didn’t want to.
I couldn’t see how waiting would make a difference—I’m busy now, and I have every intention of being busy 5 years from now.
Our daughter August was born shortly after I turned 30, she’s 5 months old now. Having a child has forced us to prioritize and learn how to grow, and to actually direct. I used to work until midnight or 2AM regularly, which was OK because Mario and I were together. But now I can’t do that. While my work is important, there’s a whole new thing that’s entered the paradigm, and sometimes she wants and needs me now. I love her so much.
Something that prompted us to start a family was a fear that we would continue working like crazy, then wake up and be like oh shit - what happened to our lives? Women in the workplace and the family dynamic is a pretty big topic—there’s a pressure for women to feel professionally successful, but family is the elephant in the room. August was born during our busiest time at the agency and I came back to work after 3 months. I didn’t want to choose between August and work, so I set myself up to be as accessible as possible. We live 3 blocks away and I go home every lunchtime to feed and be with her. I’m so fortunate to have that flexibility, it would be different if I was in a traditional office environment. I still have to work late nights and most weekends, but I control my schedule and I try to be with August whenever I can.
It would never be possible without having such a supportive team here— we’re like family. We’re very close knit and Mario and I have been careful to grow the agency slowly—it’s taken 6 years to grow to 12 internal staff. Over the past year we’ve had the most incredible opportunities of our careers, and are taking a more holistic approach to creative projects—which has only been possible through building that internal team.
I think that’s true success—when you see small rewards over time from whatever you’re working towards.
Whether you’re building a team and you see it growing, to working on a relationship and becoming closer to that person. I could say I strive for balance and happiness, but those are hard to quantify—and happiness from accomplishing something is sort of fleeting. It’s a roller coaster emotion where you have it one minute and don’t the next. Success to me is more about longevity than short-term happiness. You have to earn it.
As told to Amy Woodside, May 2014
Photographed by Amy Woodside