Rosy Conversation with Michael Friedl

I had the privilege of interviewing Austria’s Trade Commissioner to the USA, Michael Friedl, and learned about the agency that he heads in New York City, Advantage Austria, which is part of the Austrian Federal Economic Chamber.  They have 112 offices all over the world that work to represent Austria and help to establish and facilitate trade relations between countries. 

Being an Austrian American dual citizen myself, I am passionate about finding ways to integrate the countries further,  realizing how this is part of a dual cultural identity that I have.  Furthermore, a pillar for bringing Austria and the US closer together is by trade and economic infrastructure.  Austria provides high quality consumer goods and services and is also an extremely high performing nation across the spectrum.  The benefits for further Austrian economic integration in global trade infrastructure is immense for a small nation.

Advantage Austria is based out of New York City.

Bianca: I read that Austria placed 4th in 2018 for the World Bank’s Logistics Performance Index which ranked countries on six dimensions on trade.  Since Austria is exemplary in trade performance, were there factors in particular that generated such a great score?  I am not surprised since there are so many other indexes which Austria scores highly on.

Michael: Austria, you know it yourself, is a very small country, maybe the size of Georgia.  Trade plays a very important role in Austria as most larger companies wouldn’t survive only catering to the domestic market so they have to look to foreign markets. Trade, logistics, and investing in infrastructure for trade and trade facilitation has always played an important role for Austria.  This is one of the reasons that I would say Austria scored very highly.

Bianca: What is the background of Advantage Austria?

Michael: Advantage Austria is the official trade and innovation promotion agency of Austria.  We are part of the Austrian Federal Economic Chamber.  Every Austrian company is a member of that chamber, which makes it different from the US chamber system, where it’s a voluntary membership and you have many smaller chambers, whereas in Austria, you have a membership by law.

Through this membership, you have a lot of benefits for free, which includes access to resources through our 112 offices worldwide which are kind of Embassies of Trade.  It’s the second largest network in the world after the US.  It’s a pretty large network considering that we are a very small country.  What we do includes market research and market intelligence, coaching of new exporters, as well as the organization of various events – from tech and innovation conferences to trade fairs. 

We also have formal partnerships with universities in the US, for instance with Stanford and MIT.  We have agreements through which we bring researchers and professors to Austria or connect Austrian companies to the knowledge system at these institutions.  It’s a system that goes beyond the normal consular work or trade commission work, we take a hands on approach.  99% of Austrian firms are medium sized companies, so they often don’t have the knowledge or capacity to learn about and enter foreign markets.  Sometimes they could not survive without foreign markets, and we try to fulfill that bridge role and support them in their successful internationalization efforts.

Bianca: Successful trade partnerships with the US include well known companies such as Swarovski and Wolford (wow!), but is there a “typical” example of Austrian companies who have established a presence in the US through Advantage Austria?

Michael: If you look at the US, the US is the second most important trading partner for Austria, after Germany, as Germany is a neighboring country, but the US is already number two.  If you look for companies from Austria doing business in the US, you would see companies across the spectrum.  Most of the exports are in the automotive industry, machinery, steel… heavy industry, so we have a lot of companies in these sectors that have established subsidiaries with our help in the Southeast or Midwest. 

Advantage Austria is helping with location scouting, market intelligence, finding possible partners, as well as legal regulations and customs. Beyond industrial equipment, we also have consumer goods and services coming into the US.  Some of these services include engineering services or architectural services, financial services, and consumer goods include energy drinks, wine, furniture and cheese etc.

Bianca: Austria is a high performing country that has a population the size of the San Francisco Bay Area.  Do you think there is a unique position that this country has with its education system, lifestyle, and the stunning environments?  I cannot see any other reason for why you could not succeed with those factors aligned.

Michael: It definitely has to do with education, but I’d also like to highlight again that Austria is a very small country, so often, children start elementary school and learn at least one foreign language or even a second, so we are already trained for the international market.  Secondly, I would say that many Austrians can adapt easily to foreign environments and have a certain flexibility when it comes to understanding of and negotiating in foreign markets.

Christine Moser, Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen, and Michael Friedl

Bianca: You have spent many years working overseas for Advantage Austria, I am sure those experiences have equipped you in terms of diplomacy. What motivates you to help give Austria a strong presence in the US and vice versa?

Michael: For me, I always knew that I wanted to work internationally and abroad, and I was looking for something where I could spend more time in a foreign country working in business.  Our terms range from 3 to 7 years in a particular country, where you are representing Austria and the Austrian business community, but you also can also submerge and integrate in your host country. So for me, this was the ideal job where you can combine business support and consultancy with diplomacy.

I started living abroad as a teenager in the UK, Spain and France and then studied at the age of 21 in Canada. I loved Canada and also visited the US for various occasions during this time.  When I had an opportunity to head our office in Washington D.C. about 15 years ago, it made me understand and like the US even more and I knew that I wanted to come back.  As you might have seen, I’ve also lived in South Africa, the United Arab Emirates, and Iran.  I liked the variety of cultures and business environments in these countries as well.

Bianca: Do you consider trade to be a bridge between nations that is critical to global infrastructure now?  I look at trade this way. 

Michael: If you look at Austria from a political or a military as well as security perspective, I guess Austria does not feature prominently on the map in the US other than culturally or as the country of the Sound of Music.  We are trying through trade to expand and complement that image.  There are many hidden champions in Austria, who are world market leaders in their field.  If you look at med-tech or pharmaceuticals, infrastructure or green energy solutions, tunnel or underground engineering, a lot of that technology is coming out of this small country of Austria.  That’s something that people might not be aware of, so yes, there is Mozart, yes there is chocolate, but there is also hardcore business and technology that we want to bring to the rest of the world.

Bianca: What motivates you to help give Austria a strong presence in the US and vice versa?

Michael: I have been to other countries where Austria is more well-known, for example, in the Arab countries or in Iran, Austria is an important gateway to Europe.  It’s particularly difficult to raise awareness for a country like Austria. Here in New York, where you can find representatives from the whole world, and where competition is extremely high, you have to know how to do this.  It’s not only done by serving cake or wine, you have to convince people that there is a benefit cost-wise or quality-wise to do business with Austria. 

Also, in the US, it’s not so much where a product comes from (be it from Shanghai, Santiago de Chile or Salzburg), as long as the product is a good product, it helps reduce costs or increase revenue, or promotes a cause, and you know that story about the product as well. You have to be able to sell that extra benefit, and on top of it, you can serve some whipped cream with it, which is the Austrian culture.  Ultimately, the underlying product has to make sense. Nobody will buy it just because it is Austrian.

Bianca: With respect to forecasting trade relations, do you see the future of trade with the US being related to being the more impactful industries versus the typically romanticized images of Austrian exports?

Michael: Well, I think it’s both. I am convinced that the relationship will continue to be expanding as commercial exchanges between the US and Austria, at least in the past five years, have been growing.  Every year, we have trade increases of around 10% year-on-year, and that on top of an already very high absolute volume.

On the other hand, tourism has also been expanding; Americans visiting Austria, and Austrians visiting the US.  And to complete the picture financial cross-border investments have also been growing.  We have around 700 Austrian companies providing 40,000 jobs to Americans.  We have about 28,000 jobs in Austria created by American companies, and maybe another 60,000 jobs in Austria directly depending on trade with the US.  It’s an ever expanding relationship and a win-win situation for both countries.  I think in the future it will be even more so.

Bianca: Do you see a lot of the work that you’re doing is asking Austrians to come this way?  It just makes sense that way given the sheer volume of approaching the American population.

Michael: Our most important clients, of course, are the Austrian companies, but one of our goals is further integration of both economies.  Yes, we also try to bring investment to the US from Austria and vice versa and bring extra benefits to US companies by linking them with their Austrian counterparts.  The best witnesses of Austrian successes are Americans.  If an American in Ohio or Iowa or any state talks highly of Austria, that’s much more valuable than if I am talking highly of Austria.  Obviously, I’m an Austrian, but if the American counterparts say, “Well, with this technology, I can save so much more money,” or “With this green tech, I am not using as much CO2,” or “Now I can employ 10,000 more people with the help of an Austrian partner,” these are the stories that we want to elevate. 

Bianca: What do you see for the future of trade with Austria? How can young people support this trade?

Michael: It’s about stories, and of course, I can tell you to “buy more Red Bull” or “buy more Swarovski,” but I think in the end it’s about listening to what people know about Austria and then tell a surprising story that expands their knowledge about Austria.

Sometimes people are surprised when I tell them that when they landed by plane at LaGuardia, their plane probably landed safe because of an Austrian communication system. And when you take a taxi and come via RFK bridge and you don’t have to stop at the toll station, it’s because of an Austrian automatic tolling system and if you then go into the subway, you’re driving on Austrian steel, and maybe even through tunnels created with Austrian engineering finesse.  You may then pass a Swarovski shop or a Wolford shop by foot, so Austria is all around you.  Austria is more well-known for industrial or B2B products, not so much for consumer goods and popular brands as you have in Germany, Italy or Japan. We often say, Austria is more on the inside than seen on the outside, in the sense that you find it as a very important part of a machine or as an engine in famous brands such as BMW. As a consumer you might not see much of the Austrian products, but your favorite brand or the technology you depend on might not be the same or work as well if it were not for the parts from Austria.

Rosy Conversation with Natalie Glebova

Natalie Glebova is an “Empowerist.” She has found her calling as an agent for empowering others and helping them realize their true potential.  As Miss Universe 2005, Ms. Glebova is perfectly suited for this role: her significant public speaking engagements, establishment as a public figure, and her advocacy work with UN Women have all equipped her to be in a position of empowerment.  

To date, she has used her Miss Universe platform to empower others by writing a bestselling book about empowerment, start her own company to empower youth, advocate for UN Women, and she also started a travel startup with her husband, Dean Kelly, called Travelbook.  It is my great pleasure to have interviewed Natalie and share with you her thoughtful answers here on Rosy BVM. Thank you, Natalie, you are incredibly inspiring!

xx Bianca

Bianca: Your work as Miss Universe certainly set the stage for an incredible career that spans from being a motivational speaker, UN Women advocate, writer, travel blogger, and entrepreneur!  I am so amazed by your work and believe in how you set an incredible example for living an empowered life. You are an “Empowerist,” as you say. What brought you to this realization that this was your calling?

Natalie: There was a point in my life where I didn’t know who I was in a professional sense and struggled with what to say when people asked me what I did for a living. I tried many different paths, always striving to pursue my passion and what I felt set my soul on fire. I did blogging, designing my product line (perfumes), I wanted to create a line of workout clothes, took acting classes, received a diploma in nutrition and wellness, and even learned how to DJ. All of that was interesting for me for a short while until I got bored. Then I came to realize that I was always pursuing my passions and not my purpose. Learning from great self-development gurus such as Robin Sharma, Tony Robbins, Eckhart Tolle, Simon Sinek, and Mel Robbins, I came to understand that the difference between passion and purpose is that the former is self serving and inward facing, while the latter is outward facing and serving others.

Passions come and go, just like romantic passion – it may last up to 2 years or so, and when it’s gone you tend to get bored and move on to something else. But when you find the purpose – something that serves and provides value for other people, it brings more meaning to your own life and fuels your work for a much longer period of time. After some deep introspection and inner work where I sat with my journal over a 3-day period by myself and wrote down all of my accomplishments, achievements, talents and passions, I’ve come to the conclusion that I have a great platform and voice as a public figure to bring a message of self-love to people who are suffering from a lack of it.  

I wanted to provide a value to people and having realized my strengths like public speaking and connecting to others on a deeper level, I decided to pursue the work of an empowerment coach (empowerist). My purpose is to help others know themselves fully, assist them in finding their own purpose in life, and motivate them to  set and achieve their biggest goals in life, all while building confidence, positive thinking, and awareness.

Bianca: You wrote a book recently, I Am Winning: A Guide to Personal Empowerment, which made it to the bestseller charts on Amazon. Congratulations! What inspired you to write this book?

Natalie: I’ve always had a lot of great insights that I kept in my mind, whether from my personal experiences or those that I learned to adapt from the teachings of my favorite coaches. I knew that there was a book just waiting to be written in there, somewhere in my mind. One day, as my husband, daughter and I were sitting in a beach club in Koh Samui Thailand (after having finished DJing there) watching the sunset, listening to the waves and beautiful music, drinking fresh coconuts, my husband Dean turned to me with a warm grateful smile and said “Babe, are we winning, or what?” I had to laugh and told him, “Yes!”, feeling super grateful and content in that moment.

This has since become our family inside joke. Whenever we feel great about our lives and where we are, be it at a fancy event all glammed up, or cuddled up on the sofa at home – we feel like we are winning. That line made me think about how the simplest things in life can make us feel alive and happy – if you are aware and mindful enough. Every person in the world has the capacity to feel like that daily. I wanted to share this realization with others to inspire them to feel grateful for their lives, the small things that they can find beautiful and lovely on a daily basis, and thereby make themselves feel like winners.

Bianca: You operate a youth empowerment organization called, “Empowered,” along with another woman, Dr. Patama Mokaves Dumas, which offers programs for youth to learn about how to live their “best life” and be in “winning mindset.” I love this idea and the program’s concept since so much about being in a “winning mindset,” in my opinion, is believing in yourself and cultivating confidence. Do the programs focus on ways for youth to self empower themselves?

Natalie: Yes, the program is focused on giving the students the tools to become empowered, self-disciplined, knowing what they want from life, learning how to set goals effectively and follow through the action plan, and knowing how to face life’s obstacles with the right attitude. While my part of the program focuses on personal development with the subjects that I just mentioned, my partner Dr. Paddy teaches them the skills necessary for thriving in the modern working world – writing with logic, public speaking, networking, dressing for success and making a good impression. With these tools the students are able to go into the world, even before they graduate, with the right mindset, knowing how to tackle their biggest challenges and taking on their biggest goals.

Bianca: On top of being a bestselling author and running a program about empowerment, you also started a travel startup with your husband, Travelbook!  What is Travelbook? I love your YouTube videos, your recent Burning Man 2018 video was so well done! Watching it really felt like you’re there (everyone should go follow your YouTube channel!).  

Natalie: Thank you! We love to travel, and that was one of the reasons from which Travelbook was conceived. It’s a one-stop platform for sharing and booking your travel experiences. When your friends ask you for recommendations on where to go, stay, eat and what to see, you don’t need to write them long messages or try to remember the names of places – you simply share your Travelbook for the place you went to with your friends with one click.

This also keeps all your memories safe in one place, so you never forget the hotels and restaurants you visited since you are able to check in and keep it all in one place. You can also book your flights and hotels directly from the platform if you trust your friend’s recommendations, so it takes all the hassle out of planning a trip and it makes it easy to share it with your friends.

Bianca: You seem quite fearless in leading an international life, which I greatly admire (Russia to Canada to New York to Thailand, you embody the ideals of Miss Universe). Since you live in Bangkok, Thailand, what do you love most about it? It is such a gorgeous place, I would love to visit Thailand one day.

Natalie: Thailand has become my home over the last 13 years and I truly love this country. It is very culturally diverse, and the people here are wonderful. They have taught me how to be more patient, self-aware, and compassionate, as well as less judgmental.

The Buddhist religion which is very much part of the culture here gives me a sense of peace and calmness and it is evident in the daily human interactions that make up this type of atmosphere. Of course, the food is incredible – I love spicy foods, seafood, exotic fruits! Ease of life – Thais call it “sabai sabai” which loosely translated means “easy going” is something that I appreciate as well. There are also great and inexpensive massages; the stunning beaches; gorgeous temples – what’s not to love?

I truly believe that immersing yourself into a culture that’s different from your own is the best school of life. You grow, evolve, become richer in a spiritual sense, and learn to be more humble. I would love the opportunity to live on yet another continent someday.

Bianca: How many languages do you speak?

Natalie: I speak English, Russian, and some Thai and Spanish.

Bianca: What has your advocacy work with UN Women included? It’s so critical for women to support other women and for men to also be part of the feminist dialogue.

Natalie: A few years ago I was appointed as one of the advocates for the campaign “He for She” run by UN Women. The main purpose of this campaign was for both men and women to support the rights of other women as well as the LGBT community. Our mission was to give minorities a voice, and show support of others through social media campaigns and daily engagement with our fans online.

Presently, I’m continuing this campaign by getting involved on the local community level to empower young women through talks in high schools, female prisons, and centers for disadvantaged women in Thailand to find the strength and courage within themselves to set goals and move towards them with a positive attitude. We also recently had a fundraiser for two  women-focused organizations for International Women’s Day called “Women Uplift Women” where we talked about the importance of women supporting each other and not competing or bullying.

Rosy Conversation with Sunny Gu

Sunny Gu, Los Angeles and Chicago based fashion artist and illustrator, has a fierce amount of talent.  Moreover, she has an ability to bring together themes of nature, beauty, and fashion and allows the viewer to enjoy how these coincide together.  I came across her artwork after seeing her recent partnership with Disney x Zales, where she fantastically painted the Disney Princesses in watercolor.  I am so delighted to feature her art on Rosy BVM and an interview with Sunny where she discusses her life as an artist and her artistic inspirations. Some of her clients have included Vogue magazine, ELLE magazine, Conde Nast, Versace, Bloomingdale’s, and Shiseido.  Please be sure to visit her website: www.sunnygu.com and follow her on Instagram: www.instagram.com/happysunnygu. If you are interested in purchasing her art as high quality canvas prints, please visit the following: https://www.icanvas.com/canvas-art-prints/artist/sunny-gu

Bianca: I saw your recent watercolor series for Zales where the Disney Princess jewelry collection was highlighted.  I was amazed at how steady you are while painting. Was there a Princess that you enjoyed painting the most or were they all fun to paint?

Sunny: So happy you saw the collaboration! It was truly an honor to be part of it! They are all very fun to paint! It’s such a dream to recreate Disney princesses in fashion illustration form!

Bianca: Your artwork is incredible; how did you realize that watercolor is your main medium?

Sunny: Thank you! I love the vibrancy and unpredictable nature of watercolor. I also appreciate the fast drying nature of watercolor, it allows me to focus on precision and trains me to work efficiently.

Bianca: What inspires you artistically?  Are there environments in nature that inspire you more than others?

Sunny: I get most of my inspirations from the smallest things in daily life, I love paying attention to details: roadside wildflowers, clothing textiles of a passerby, a fun color combination on the streets. Yes, I LOVE wandering in parks, conservatories, gardens, I can’t resist being surrounded by flowers and plants.

Bianca: How long have you been painting?

Sunny: I fell in love with doodling since I was two, it’s been a long time. 🙂

Bianca: There are themes of fashion, femininity, flowers throughout your work. I especially enjoy the vivid colors!  Do you have any designers who particularly inspire your work? I could see how Dolce & Gabbana and Versace could have an influence on your work.

Sunny: Yes, Dolce & Gabbana and Versace are absolutely among my favorites, I also love the designs by Marchesa, Valentino, and Elie Saab.

Influences of D&G and Versace are evident in this work!

Bianca: Where is your main residence / studio located?  Are you a native of LA or Chicago?

Sunny: Currently I live and work between Chicago and Los Angeles. I was born and raised in China, I moved to Los Angeles when I was 13. I started split half of my year in Chicago ever since I got married two years ago (my husband works in Chicago).

Bianca: I saw that you recently did a partnership with Sugarfina and live painted at the recent opening of a store in LA, that is great!  Were you painting candy themed paintings for that event?

Sunny: We were celebrating the launch of Sugarfina x Barbie limited collection, so all the customers who came are all Barbie + sweets lovers.  They all dressed in candy tones and many of them wore clothing with the Barbie logo. I was creating their custom portraits, they were adorable, like real life Barbies!

Rosy Conversation with Charlie Chanaratsopon

I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Charlie Chanaratsopon, Founder of Charming Charlie.  Opened in 2004, Charming Charlie is a women’s fashion and accessories brand with over 270 stores across the United States.  In 2015, he was named by Forbes as one of “America’s 40 Most Successful Young Entrepreneurs.” Charlie is a first generation Thai-American who graduated with an MBA from Columbia Business School.  He generously spoke with me about the emergence of the Charming Charlie brand as well as the ever changing landscape of the retail and consumer market. Charming Charlie is most notable for its unique strategy in organizing merchandise by color.  My experience speaking with him was a pleasure and I am very pleased to share my interview.

Bianca: What prompted your realization that accessories would be your business? Did you have a sense of assuredness in your vision to supply the market in the way that Charming Charlie does now? Was this because of a lack that you saw in the industry for affordable fashion accessories?

Charlie: At the core, I’m an entrepreneur, and love buying and selling “things” since I was a kid. I’m from Houston, Texas, and grew up in an entrepreneurial family. As for Charming Charlie, I knew that I didn’t want to focus the brand on apparel, as it is a highly competitive and generally difficult category to compete. I was thinking about what product mix to curate for the brand, and after studying other retail concepts, I realized that there was an opportunity in accessories. Charming Charlie could be the one stop for women’s accessories.

Bianca: I love the namesake aspect of Charming Charlie – a reference to you! How did it come about? Likely because of your charming personality?

Charlie: This is a good story!  I never imagined we were going to have stores all over the country, and just wanted to quickly come up with a name and get started. So, I hired a marketing firm and explained that we were going to be selling this type of product and that I needed a name. I recall the first few names that were suggested, and I only remember the awful sounding ones like “Accessory Buffet, ” “Accessories City,” or “Funky Monkey.” I asked if we could explore other names and one of the marketers sitting in our meeting looks at me and says, “What about Charming Charlie?”  That was really catchy and easy to remember, and that was it!

Bianca: The color coordination concept is fabulous; some artists would say that a color becomes a color when it’s next to other colors (the way in which colors affect other colors). Did you consider from the company’s inception that color organization would be an essential part of your brand’s identity?  I remember being struck by how great that was when I shopped in the store.

Charlie: When we had three or four stores, I asked myself, “How do we maintain differentiation/innovation, and give the customer what they want?”  I was standing in a store on a Saturday and speaking to customers. One of our customers told me, “You should present the product by color, it’s how I shop.” We first tried the color coordination in one store. We received great feedback. We then took the three front tables and color coordinated them; the customers loved it. Since then, color is such an important pillar of the brand, and all stores changed to be merchandised by color.

Bianca: Trends, fashion, and timeless style are all integrated into the brand so well, does the design team gain inspiration from a combination of current trends in the market and occasion-oriented wear (i.e. cocktail party, everyday wear, etc.)? There really is something for everyone and it’s a good mix of timeless and trendy!

Charlie: Merchants/buyers need to constantly stay on top of trends and fashion, but most importantly know the brand’s core customer.

Merchants stay on top of trends by following influencers/brands on social media, going through magazines, working with our product partners, attending fashion shows, gaining inspiration from luxury brands, and shopping at other retailers. These activities help merchants quickly bring relevant on trend beautiful product to customers.

Bianca: What points in the history of Charming Charlie do you consider most notable? It has scaled remarkably; I read on the company website that there are ~260 stores?

Charlie: There’s all sorts of milestones, but something that was very special for us was when we first expanded outside of Texas, opening in other states in the US and seeing women smile and their positive reaction as they entered the store; whether it was a woman in Georgia or a woman in New Jersey, seeing that Charming Charlie was not just a local phenomenon. It was really rewarding and exciting to see the brand resonating across the country.


Rosy Conversation with Michael Faudet


“I never lost sight of the real you – the goodness that lived within your heart. Even when you did your best to convince me otherwise.” – Michael Faudet

Michael Faudet, international best selling author of Dirty Pretty Things, Bitter Sweet Love, Smoke & Mirrors, and his newest book, Winter of Summers, which was released in Fall of 2018.  Michael, truly, is a magician of words and is a natural at expressing and putting a spotlight on how love plays a central role in the human experience.

His writing has captured the hearts of many around the world.  With over one million followers on social media, his books about love, emotion, and the human experience can touch us all.  He has undeniably inspired readers and his talent has generated much-deserved adoration for the mysterious writer.

Mr. Faudet generously answered a list of questions for me, and I am incredibly thrilled to share them here.  From his famous relationship with fellow best selling author, Lang Leav, to reflections on how his writing has spread across the Internet, to how New Zealand and his little house by the sea has been a source of inspiration for him, Michael has certainly brought fragrant roses to Rosy BVM, and I hope you all enjoy this interview as much as I do.

xx Bianca

Bianca: How long have you been writing and did you always want to be a writer?

Michael: I’ve always written in one way or another. Even as a child I had a habit of writing weird and wacky stories. I also enjoyed many years working in advertising as a creative director, creating campaigns for numerous international brands. So writing and playing with words has been an integral part of my life.

In 2008, I walked away from the hype and hustle of advertising and moved to New Zealand. It’s here that I wrote my first book, Dirty Pretty Things, and every book since. And I hope to write many more in this beautiful part of the world. (Including my first novel.) Of course, none of this would be possible without the wonderful support of my readers.  

Bianca: Much of your poetry comes in short bursts (short resonant bursts) and there’s a distinctly human quality to them – themes of love, erotica, and the human experience: do you think this resonates more intensely with readers today because our experiences have become so digitally based?

Michael: I believe it’s a blessing and a curse that so much of our lives have become digitally based.

The internet presents a world of information within reach of our fingertips, which in itself, is truly amazing. Social media allows us to connect in ways that previous generations could only dream about. However, on the flip side, it’s so easy to become sheltered from the real world. To lose touch with nature and relegate the human experience to a handful of clicked emojis.

I think the reason why my writing resonates with readers today is less about digital alienation, but perhaps more due to the fundamental truth that unites us all and never changes. The basic human desire to love and be loved in return.

As for brevity, there are times when just a few words can capture an emotion more succinctly than overwriting an idea to death. Other times, a couple of lines isn’t enough to do a particular piece justice. (Often far too many words to post up online.) Which is why I tend to keep the more lengthy examples of my poetry and prose contained to my books.

Bianca: Your poetry is so compelling and I think there is quite a bit of marketing genius in how your poetry appears across the Internet.  Do you think Internet lore has helped to build your following? Given your experience in the advertising industry, did this come naturally to you or did the spread of your work occur organically?

Michael: There is no doubt the internet can provide an author with exposure and a great opportunity for their work to find a much wider audience. But it’s certainly not any guarantee of success. The same rule applies to writing as for any other piece of posted content. If people like it, they will share it. If not, it goes nowhere.

Any following I have built has happened more organically rather than by intention or some ingenious masterplan. If my experience in advertising taught me anything, it’s that the real power always rests firmly with the customer. Books are no exception. Like I hinted at earlier, it is all thanks to my readers that my books sell and make it into bestseller charts. Something I am truly grateful for every single day.  

Bianca: You and Lang are certainly a literary power couple: do you consider your works to be symbiotic or in dialogue in some way?  I consider this as you write, “I write because you exist.”

Michael: There is no doubt that Lang and I inspire each other in many ways. And yes, a few of the pieces we have written are certainly dedicated to each other. Having said that, we tend to put our creative energy and focus into our own individual books. There are times we discuss ideas together, but on the whole, we prefer to operate as single entities. Lang likes to write at home in her studio. Whereas I prefer to write sitting in cafés with a coffee or a glass of wine. Having a bit of space between us seems to work well. Especially now that Lang is working on her second novel. The less distractions, the better.

Outside of writing, we naturally spend all of our time together. We live a pretty quiet life in a little house by the sea. Which we share with a crazy dog, two cats, and my son, Oliver. I often get to travel with Lang when she does her overseas signing events too. At the end of last year, we visited the United States. Where Lang did sold out events at Barnes & Noble bookstores in LA and New York. (I also got to do some stealth signings, including the legendary Strand Book Store.)

A real highlight of the trip for me was meeting some of my readers at Lang’s New York event. They were just so lovely and asked me plenty of interesting questions. I also got to chat with authors Amanda Lovelace, Cyrus Parker, and Yung Pueblo. Which was a lot of fun too!    

Bianca: Do you have a magnum opus among your works?  My personal favorite poems of yours are “Roses” and “The Gift.”

Michael: To be honest, that is a difficult question for me to answer. My personal favourites change with every book I write. I think I’ll leave that one to you and my readers to decide.  

Bianca: The artwork on your book covers and in your poetry is distinct.  Is there an era in time that inspired your style and aesthetic?

Michael: All the front covers, including my latest book, Winter of Summers, are created by the amazing Tinca Veerman. A brilliant artist based in Amsterdam. I consider myself very lucky that she allows me to use her collages for my books. There is something classical about her work, yet at the same time, the aesthetic is contemporary and highly distinctive. The first time I saw Tinca’s artwork online, I instantly fell in love with it.   

Thank you, Michael Faudet!

Rosy Conversation with Marine Tanguy

Marine Tanguy, Founder, and CEO of MTArt Agency in London spent time speaking with me last week about everything from her art agency to discussing her new partnership with M&C Saatchi called “Visual Diet.”  Visual Diet highlights the detrimental impact on mental health that images of a certain kind can have.  As we exist in a world now that is fixated on an unreal perfection that is heavily edited with photo editors such as Facetune, we are forced to grapple as a society with the effects that this has more broadly.  

Furthermore, young women are particularly affected by this imagery that is consumed on a daily basis on platforms such as Instagram.  Influencers such as Kim Kardashian can become more cognizant of their social responsibility, and can use their platform in ways that generate positive social change in the world; women such as Malala should have every opportunity to have the same kind of influence as Kim Kardashian.  This topic was covered in Marine’s TEDxLausanne speech last year.

Marine is on the Forbes 30 Under 30 List for 2018 in Arts & Culture; her art agency is a groundbreaking model that represents artists rather than the classic gallery model in the art industry that focuses on collecting art.  Each month, a committee selects 200 artists to be represented by her agency. The work that Marine does to keep art alive should be scaled globally in my opinion as her agency is on the pulse of our contemporary artistic experiences.  Our conversation spanned many topics, but a shared understanding was at its ethos: there is much work to be done with spreading awareness to the impact of images on the mind.

Bianca: I appreciate you chatting with me, when I saw a clip of you on France 24, I was incredibly impressed and think that your work is amazing. Thank you for speaking with me!

Marine: You’re very kind.  I’ve been in the industry for about 10 years and I was a young gallery director when I was 21 in London, then later founded my own gallery in Los Angeles at age 23. This is when I got introduced to all of the top Hollywood agencies.  Two-thirds of galleries are currently not profitable and many galleries were not seeing many people coming through their doors and on the other end, I just felt that the artists were not greatly supported through that system.  I think the Hollywood agency model was a lot more 360, and it was really behind the artist more. We are still a very conservative industry, and the art agency model is very unique for the art industry, but I’m hoping that more people will be following the lead after us.

Bianca: You have so many different avenues to enter into creating this social change.  The way that I perceived your Visual Diet partnership with Saatchi is being a part of a social movement that’s happening right now regarding how people perceive social media.

Marine: Yes, when I was in Hollywood, I was shocked by the Hollywood machines, like who is making people famous and that was really an eye-opener in terms of the influence that people have… I always pick on the example of Kim Kardashian, but it’s really the voices that we hear and there is such an opportunity for who people are giving a voice to that matters.  Fast forward to when we started talking about the art agency, and it’s become political in my head: it’s becoming a battle of content and what content are people consuming? If a young girl spends five hours on social media every day, her visit to a museum every three months is irrelevant, it won’t impact her brain.

Bianca: I think we are looking at a situation that is the Wild West of imagery right now, and I really appreciate how you’re thinking about these systems and systems change, because that’s actually a lot of the work that we do where I’m at, we think about how philanthropy can dramatically change populations and communities. I’ve always been very visual, making collages and taking art classes, and I’m very invested in what you’re doing because I think you can make a big change in the world.

Marine: I think initially it was a personal belief and passion for art and the interesting thing is now considering the mental health perspective, considering who is harmless and who is not on your mental health.  I think more and more people are seeing that it’s a lot more than me just being into art.

Bianca: Exactly.  For me, working in philanthropy is really inspiring for similar reasons.

Marine: One idea that might be interesting to you is what does it mean to be visually inspiring?  The idea that we had for Visual Diet with M&C Saatchi is if anyone takes on certain principles, they should be recognized, perhaps creating an award show for what is visually inspiring.  We are looking for partnerships across industries to identify what’s most visually inspiring… You should not lose anything in business, but you’re also doing something that’s very nice and making a difference that way. We want to show that visual artists are the voices we should listen more to.

Bianca: I think you already are, Marine!  I think it’s about spreading awareness and when people see that [inspiring visuals] can be rigorously applied across industries and how that goes past the art industry, I think many people will be behind you.

Marine: Thank you.  I think women feel particularly touched by this.  With the advertising world, we’ve been targeted much more than men.  I think to feel empowered visually is a big change. As women, I think we feel even more passionately about it.

Women of MTArt Agency attend talk organized by designer Marina Rinaldi.

Rosy Conversation with Bianca Mercurio

Entering into conversation with someone is inherently social, but it’s the content plus the nature of the conversation that can be revealing in its own way. I’ll be entering into conversation on Rosy BVM with individuals who I find to be inspiring and embody the “rosy life,” and are the people that we seek to be more like. It’s through finding common ground and genuine connection with others that we can work together in solving the world’s most challenging problems, and it’s also by supporting one another in our respective fields and our lives more broadly that we can live more enriching and happier lives. Our lives should be purpose driven and have direction for the rosier sides of life while acknowledging the need for more empathy in this world. Please join me in these conversations.

xx Bianca