Our latest Marfa Muse Katy Wickremesinghe is on a mission to ‘connect the culturally curious’. Founder of KTW London, a strategic communications agency specialising in the art market, cultural arena and luxury brand space, we spotlight Katy today as she launches her new platform The Wick.
In addition, Katy is the youngest ever Trustee of Dulwich Picture Gallery, Board Advisor for The Line and appears in the top 5 Luxury PR power players in the 2020 PR Week PowerBook
Katy wears the Reversible Trench Coat in Olive near her home in Wandsworth, London.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR BACKGROUND?
I am half Sri-Lankan but born in South London. I definitely think growing up in a family which bridges the culture and belief system of east and west combined has informed the way I live my life. I’m half an island and city girl combined in one. Growing up, I was consistently surrounded by family and at the core of everything was fluid conversation and big get togethers- usually involving lots of food - which taught me a strong sense of being. Most of my family are in the medical sector – my father is a Doctor and my mum was a nurse so I think that innate idea of helping and working with people was a given. I went to Sydenham High School GDST which I loved and then studied history at Warwick University where I was lucky enough to live in Venice, studying the Renaissance as part of my degree. I’ve always loved travelling and exploring new communities and places which has helped me to sustain my curiosity and to evolve as a person. I am never far from a pineapple; I even have one I wear every day on my necklace. It’s my talisman.
In my early twenties I started as an intern at Freud Communications, where I stayed for over a decade. I learnt so much there discovering how founders and businesses develop human stories and purpose. It was a privilege to be able to be part of an organisation with such prestigious clients and meaningful projects. As an Associate Director running the Luxury Lifestyle division my clients spanned all the lifestyle spheres –BAFTA, Burberry, Chime for Change, Visit London, Soho House Group, Chiltern and Vintage at Goodwood. Working at this level gave me the foundations to navigate teams and multiple clients ahead of starting KTW.
I have quite a dual nature – a business lover on one side but a bohemian spiritualist on the other. I see my world through a love of psychology and colour; it’s my love of people and understanding how they tick and connect which fascinates me. As I grow older, I feel much clearer in my passions and I am pleased that they also now give me my purpose in life.
WHAT LED YOU TO START YOUR BUSINESS?
To me, art and culture is the unequivocal point of human connection and as someone driven by a want to create, connect and educate, communications was a natural career path. In 2014 I established KTW London, a strategic communications consultancy because I felt there weren’t really any marketing players I could relate to, which operated across the art market and affluent brand space.
We bring together art market leaders, global brands and the wider world to highlight the relevance and impact of art and culture on our daily lives. We’ve handled cultural strategies for global retailers such as Fortnum’s, Montblanc and Belmond as well as worked to represent galleries, museum level artists and foundations.
This March we launch The Wick – a cultural content hub breaking open the art world and highlighting its journeys and narratives. Through KTW and The Wick we want to help to make individuals and businesses more art engaged and responsible.
WHAT ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF?
I am really proud that I have been able to move into the space I have with my work which chimes with my two passions – communications and culture.
I am always exploring as part of my job and this means I am consistently stumbling across new ideas and learnings. Most recently I was appointed the youngest ever Trustee of the Dulwich Picture Gallery. As someone who wasn’t traditionally trained in art history and also given this public gallery is one, I have visited and been in awe of since childhood, it meant the world to be recognised in this manner. I am excited to support and build new awareness around all the wonderful exhibitions and the work they do there. Back in September I was also invited to chair a panel at Goals House to coincide with the United Nations Global Goals anniversary. Being able to navigate a complex conversation across 5 countries, IRL and digital with government officials, artists and those from the World Health organisation was a stand-out moment in my career.
Through my work I regularly get the privileged opportunity to mentor as part of The Association of Women in The Arts (AWITA), Art Market Mentors (AMM) and Warwick Business School. It was also an emotional moment to be named a top 5 Luxury power player with impact (PR Week PowerBook 2020).
Aside from my work, I am proud that some of my closest friends remain the same since birth, which reassures me that despite changes, my values remain true to who I am. Of course, I am also very proud of my art collection, which started with a down payment of £300 to my great artist friend Jonny Yeo. He kindly allowed me to pay off an original painting in monthly instalments and that led to me starting my own collection, which I jokingly call Wicks Fondazione and now comprises over 100 works of emerging and established artists. Living with art makes me happy because it reflects back to me emotions, decisions and journeys throughout my life. My art pieces are like old friends. They enrich my life.
WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR OTHER FEMALE ENTREPRENEURS/WITHIN YOUR INDUSTRY?
Learn. Learn. Learn. Ask questions and lots of them and never presume you know the answer. I still know I have huge amounts to learn and I hope it’s my humility and collaborative nature which makes people want to work with me, my team and the business. Also don’t give up. You will have bad months, maybe even years but if you can stay consistent in the little things then usually the big moments start to arrive. Finally, you will often find you spend most of your time on what we call, ‘the boring stuff’ the admin, legals, finance and it’s really important that you get to grips with the entirety of your business, what makes it tick and the ways in which you create sustainable revenue.
Working with and hiring teams it’s important to embrace the opposite of yourself, often both in personality and skill set – it’s this which makes a business flow and work to its best.
I always think other female leaders love hearing from women wanting to learn, so if you feel inspired do reach out. They would love to hear from you.
In the art world specifically, there are some incredible groups like Association of Women in the Arts (AWITA) or Marguerite which help you to build a sense of community and shared experience in a space which can be very specialised.
HOW DO YOU STYLE YOUR MARFA STANCE PIECE?
I love my Marfa Stance trench – the versatility of the reversible layer means I know I am able to wear it (post Covid) for exhibition launches and gallery openings. The cut and large lapels offer a real sense of luxury and quality, but I also love wearing the openly quilted side with my jeans and Stan Smiths on a Saturday walking around Wandsworth Common by my home. The oversized pockets are a dream. I love the rich materials and varied textures which give the design an edge to any other coats I have. The wide belt is also really flattering when you want to nip it in from a generous over size into something smarter.
I feel inspired wearing Marfa Stance as it evokes Marfa, a West Texan town and home of the late Minimalist artist Donald Judd. Like Judd – one of my favourite artists - the designs of Marfa Stance are clean and modular with a sense of modernity but with an edge. The fact that you are able to wear these pieces in various ways excites me as I start to live more consciously and sustainably, especially after the pandemic which has made me re-think not only the ways in which we have to work but also dress more consciously.
Photography Shaun James Cox