Something Special Studios is raising the bar on collaboration and community building
Based between New York City and Los Angeles, the studio has rapidly evolved from events-based work to creating a whole host of projects – proving itself to be one of the most exciting in recent years.
The work of Something Special Studios (SSS) first caught our eye back in 2019 with the release of its incredibly engrossing Summer of Something Special photo book. Years later and the studio has gone from strength to strength, effectively living up to its namesake in spades. So, how did such a creative studio come to be? Back in 2016, studio founder and CEO Michael Goldberg was working in nightlife, struggling to channel his creative expression in an extremely limited field of work. “I wanted to create more meaningful, memorable experiences,” Michael tells It’s Nice That on the genesis of SSS. “I wanted to create win/win opportunities where the artist, brand, audience and community all benefited from the projects that we produced.”
After founding SSS to do just that, Michael quickly found himself inundated with projects: from the Brooklyn Museum to Beats by Dre for the Art Basel in Miami, he really hit the ground running. When Jillian Hoey joined the team in early 2017, “the studio ideated and executed some large-scale projects for clients such as Nike, Budweiser, Dior and Beats by Dre in its first year,” Michael says. It was clear from the get go that SSS was bursting with raw, unfiltered talent.
From 2017, the studio grew in every way possible. Joaquin Bartra joined the team, and then finally in 2018 Janet Lee Rini came on board as studio director. They also started SSSpecial Projects, their platform for studio-born initiatives. SSSpecial Projects was the studio’s way of connecting with artists, institutions and cultural organisations outside of their client work, and has come to be one of the main qualities which sets apart SSS from other creative studios working today. “While none of us knew each other prior to joining SSS, each of our meetings happened organically and were built off a shared vision for creating things that were meaningfully unexpected and culturally enriching,” Michael explains. Most surprising however is the ways in which SSS flourished under the stress of Covid-19. Pre-pandemic, the team clocked in at only six people. Two years later, “and we’re sitting just shy of 30 full-time employees spread across two studios in NYC and LA,” Michael says.
One of the main ethos of SSS is collaboration. It’s of the utmost importance to everyone at the studio, and for good reason. “While we work on all types of projects now, we began with a heavy focus on events, and through these events, we quickly realised the power of curating the right collaborators,” Michael explains. “You can create community just through the people you have involved in the project, because if everyone involved enjoys being involved then they’re invested in a way that doesn’t always exist on brand projects.” It’s this collective spirit of collaboration which drives SSS to create the best of the best, and settle for nothing else. “It’s this sort of energy we now look to bring on all the projects we do, beyond events,” Michael adds. “That feeling of a project being more than just a transaction with an agency or brand, and something a bit more special.” Of course, it also helps that SSS itself began as a small team executing massive projects. The limitless possibilities of SSS' creative output has been a fire sparked back from its early days in operation. “Collaboration was a necessity for us, because it allowed us to scale and bring in experts that would be of best fit for the project at hand,” Michael says. “But, what began as a necessity has become integral to our practice.”
As Michael points out, SSS has far exceeded its original goals of being focused around events. While its port-of-call was at first to develop strategy, concept, curation and all creative and production elements of a brand event, the studio has now grown its design practice to incorporate much more in its wheelhouse. “This grew by simply reacting to our client and community needs, so during Covid-19 we expanded into digital,” Michael tells us. “Eventually, we also began creating a lot more content and campaigns, too. Now, we’re building our own brands from the ground up through ‘VentureSSS’.”
Its distinct, community and collaboration-first approach has allowed the team to be flexible on projects across any medium. “This ethos allows us to be super agile in that way and has led to the growth that you see now,” Michael says. “However, what’s been most important to us is ensuring we don’t dilute the values we started with as we grow. I think seeing how close we’ve stayed to the original vision in that sense has been the most gratifying.”
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Something Special Studios: Nike Move to Zero, Air Force 1 (Copyright © Something Special Studios, 2022)
Right now, Michael and the team are most excited about releasing their fourth edition of Summer of Something Special, which is coming later this year (much to our anticipation). As usual, it’s an annual photo book featuring the studio's favourite photographers, with all sales donated to nonprofit Ghetto Film School. “Seeing how that project has grown over the last four or five years has been incredible,” Michael says. “While most of the photographers included are handpicked by Jill and myself, we always open up one slot for submissions from the public.” This year, however, the submissions were too good for Jill and Michael to choose just one from the public. “We had to include three really incredible, emerging photographers, some who have never had work published,” Michael explains. It’s exactly this genuine commitment to – and excitement about – untapped talent and artistry that makes SSS a studio worth investing your time and energy in.
Something Special Studios: Nike Sound Flow Album Covers (Copyright © Something Special Studios, 2021)
About the Author
Joey is a freelance design, arts and culture writer based in London. They were part of the It’s Nice That team as editorial assistant in 2021, after graduating from King’s College, London. Previously, Joey worked as a writer for numerous fashion and art publications, such as HERO Magazine, Dazed, and Candy Transversal.