Meet Séréna Lutton: Creative director, photographer, founder of Warm Agency & Collective, and a woman on a mission to inspire and empower other female creatives.

We had a chance to catch up with Séréna at home in Costa Mesa to talk about creativity, business, life in California, and much more.

Photography by Jack Antal.
What originally drew you to creative direction and photography?
When I was younger, I was always drawn to all the ads within the surf industry. I used to collect books and zines and was particularly interested in things like mixed media, collages, and everything that brands like Volcom were doing at the time. I was able to do my first internship with a French surf magazine named Beach Brother when I was about 15 and it was there that I realized I wanted to pursue some kind of career in that space—so I went to school for graphic design, creative direction, and advertising.

I was able to connect with a lot of photographers and would look at a lot of photography. I was just really drawn to it all. So I started to create—putting images and words together into pages which eventually turned into magazines and books; objects that you can keep and that feel timeless. All of the visuals I was putting in my work were ocean-related because that was what was inspiring me.
I always did photography on the side as a passion, but eventually people started asking to hire me. When I would shoot a collection, I would do a look book and I really love that whole process from the imagery, to the font, to the logo... So I was getting hired a lot to do all of that and really loved it.

About eight years ago, I moved to America to start a women’s surf magazine as a creative director, designer, and photographer where I got to work with a lot of inspiring people.

“All of the visuals I was putting in my work were ocean-related because that was what was inspiring me.”
Can you tell us a bit about Warm Collective and why you founded it?
After the adventure of that first magazine in America, I was still hired as a freelancer but I wanted to start my own agency, and on a bigger scale. So that’s what I did and now I have Warm Agency where we do work for brands from creative direction to photography, production, graphic design, branding, and even consulting. We also have Warm Collective, which is how we connect with creatives of all ages in the form of mentorship, workshops, and community. The goal of Warm Collective is to give those people the tools to grow in their creative careers and to learn how to navigate both creatively and professionally.

There’s a lot to know and it’s hard to have the answers you need unless you make the mistakes. So, it’s all about giving those people the shortcuts and helping them grow. I feel so lucky to be able to have this career, so I want to give back and give other people the chance at a similar career. We also have a photo studio and creative space where we do the agency work, get inspired, and do workshops at.
What advice do you have for other women looking to break into more male-dominated spaces within the industry?
If you can prove to people that you can do it and you’re confident in your work, that’s all that matters. You always have to prove yourself, but don’t take it personally. You can do it. And my best advice is just to keep trying.
“If you can prove to people that you can do it and you’re confident in your work, that’s all that matters.”
Have you started to see a shift in the surf industry in being more inclusive and equitable for women?
Yeah for sure, like how the WSL has two to three female staff photographers and that’s amazing. But for some companies I think it’s kind of like greenwashing, where they are hiring more women because they feel the need to check that box. However, I think a strong female presence in the industry will become a norm as we move forward, which is really exciting. A lot of it has to do with just getting your foot in the door.

Have you had any moments where you feel like the work you’re doing with Warm Collective is having an impact beyond your own life?
Oh yeah. Sometimes we have girls who have never touched a camera that eventually end up finding a full-time career as a photographer and it completely changes their life. When we create for magazines or brands and tell those inspiring stories, we do it with the idea in the back of our mind that is just like “oh I hope it will inspire someone just to take the leap and do that thing they’ve been dreaming of doing”.
I’ve received a few emails thanking me or thanking the work that we have done because it helps people realize that they have the strength to do it too—and that’s the beauty behind it all.

I love doing the commercial jobs and all of that but being able to connect with these girls and help them in one way or another is really huge and that’s what it is all about. And then there’s Lily who I work with who has grown so much; it’s been so incredible to help her, watch her, and be a part of that growth. I can’t wait to see where she goes.

What do you find inspires you most in your day-to-day?
Heritage, vintage, historical things... I love old family photos, old photo books, historical images of the surf industry, and just simple things. There’s something so special about that classic era before we had so much technology that you can’t really replicate. They were capturing real moments and we have lost a lot of that due to so much noise.

The concept and style of vintage clothes inspires me too. I try and buy mostly basic vintage clothes and wear them over and over again until they're done. Items from the past are just timeless, don’t follow any trend, and I am just really inspired by stuff like that.
How do you balance creativity and storytelling while building a successful business?
I love both aspects of it. I think it's fascinating to understand how the business side can help the creative side. Someone once told me that you have to choose between being a starving artist or a successful businessperson. And I’m like, I'm going to show you that I can do both. I don’t believe that you have to pick and that's what I'm doing today. I'm still having so much fun being creative. I'm not saying it's always perfect on the creative side, but I find peace through choosing to work with amazing and inspiring people that work hard and bring each other up.

Sometimes I crave more creativity, but you have to run the business to have some stability and then you can go back to all the fun. But there’s also so much fun on the business side, too! Some people are just not made to do both and that’s when you partner with people who are good at different things so you can make it all work together.
“... Someone once told me that you have to choose between being a starving artist or a successful businessperson. And I’m like, I'm going to show you that I can do both.”
What about California reminds you of home in France?
Well I didn’t grow up in Biarritz but Biarritz is about 20 minutes from Spain, so it’s funny because half of the radio is either Spanish or French and I hear the same thing here where half of the radio is Spanish and half is English. There’s definitely a cultural similarity with us being so close to Mexico here while they are so close to Spain in France.

The coastal culture of France reminds me a lot of California as well from an aesthetic perspective. All the cool kids get a lot of their style from the Southern California surf scene; Costa Mesa in particular. So, yeah California really inspires that part of the country and reminds me a lot of home.
What is the ideal day through the eyes of Séréna Lutton?
I love waking up early and seeing the sun rise. There’s something so special about that. So yeah, waking up early, going for a surf, and getting some good coffee. There’s this beautiful light you see in California that you don’t see anywhere else— those glassy mornings when the water is so nice and you see the big pelicans gliding right on top of the water... I love that.

Then having a good day at the office with the girls. I love working and my idea of a perfect day isn’t some vacation or anything. It’s brainstorming and having a good, creative day with the girls followed by some good dinner, good wine, and watching the sunset. That’s a really special day.
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