Ed Filipowski, 58, pioneer of fashion public relations, dies
Ed Filipowski, a public relations executive who became one of the fashion industry’s most influential behind-the-scenes players through his work with companies like Gucci, Versace and Marc Jacobs, died Friday at his home in Manhattan. He was 58.
Rachna Shah, a partner at the firm, said the cause was complications of a recent operation.
In an industry of large personalities, Filipowski blended into the scenery. But over the course of 30 years, he and his main partner, Julie Mannion, established a worldwide footprint for their firm, KCD.
They organized fashion shows for Prada, turned mere store openings for Chanel into celebrity-fueled media bonanzas, and handled PR for John Galliano during his largely successful comeback at Maison Margiela, after he had been fired from Dior for making anti-Semitic remarks.
The designer Tom Ford, in a statement, described Filipowski as a daily sounding board about branding and press strategy. Donatella Versace, who relied heavily on KCD in the wake of her brother Gianni’s killing in 1997, called Filipowski a mentor.
KCD was a pioneer in a globalizing business. Before it came along, fashion public relations was mostly built on hype and drama. Eleanor Lambert started a famous best-dressed list that was as memorable for who got left off as for who made it on. Pierre Bergé, the longtime partner of Yves Saint Laurent and the voice of his label, was famous for orchestrating fights with journalists and competitors.
Filipowski, and the employees who came to work for him and Mannion, operated differently. They were simultaneously friendlier and more corporate than their predecessors.
“They were not driven by emotion,” said Paul Cavaco, the C in the company’s name until he sold the firm to Filipowski and Mannion in the early 1990s. “That’s what Ed was really good at. He was steady.”
It was KCD that helped make headsets standard at fashion shows, its employees coolly walking the periphery of the runway in chic black suits that recalled the Agent Smith character from “The Matrix.” The idea was for them to fade into the background, reflecting both Filipowski’s asceticism and his aesthetic. He was most sentimental about his work with Helmut Lang, which in the late 1990s was the industry standard for urban minimalism.
Edwin John Filipowski was born June 27, 1961, in Monessen, Pennsylvania., just outside Pittsburgh. His father, Edward, was a steelworker. His mother, Stella, worked in various jobs, including at the retailer JCPenney, according to a 2003 profile of Filipowski in The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Filipowski graduated from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in 1983 and moved to New York, where he took a job at advertising agency Jordan, Case & McGrath.
At the time, stylists Kezia Keeble and Paul Cavaco, best known for their work on ad campaigns for Calvin Klein and Gianni Versace, were opening an agency. They hired Filipowski to be head of public relations.
Their idea was to use prominent photographers like Steven Meisel and Bruce Weber for ad campaigns, organize fashion shows and exert influence on which journalists would profile designers. That last task often fell to Filipowski.
Then, turmoil engulfed the agency.
Cavaco and Keeble, who were married, divorced, and Keeble married John Duka, a former New York Times fashion writer. He became a partner in the agency, which named itself Keeble Cavaco & Duka, later shortened to KCD.
In 1989, Duka, who had been found to have AIDS, died. A year later, Keeble died of breast cancer.
Soon after, Cavaco sold the firm to Mannion and Filipowski, who became the chief strategist.
“Everyone predicted” that the company was “going to die with two of its founders,” The New York Times fashion critic Amy M. Spindler wrote in 1996. Instead, she wrote, KCD emerged as the “one company” that was “poised to inherit the wide new world of global fashion public relations.”
Along with its minimalist aesthetic, the agency also became known for handing out highly detailed ‘‘dresser cards” backstage.
“They told the dresser how the back sash is tied, how far the zipper is supposed to go up, how many buttons are buttoned and if the collar is in or out,” said Anna Sui, who has employed KCD since 1991, when she opened her company. “Everything was pragmatic. Everything was about being correct.”
Marc Jacobs, who worked with Filipowski for more than 30 years, praised his unflappable nature. “In the moments that are the most stressful — events or especially fashion shows — Ed kept his sense of humor, kept his wits,” he said in an interview.
Gucci, Alexander McQueen and Chloe joined the company roster. When Ford was named as Yves Saint Laurent’s creative director in 1999, Filipowski set up a KCD office in Paris, a first for an American fashion public relations company.
Fast fashion companies like H&M came along and did more than produce clothes that closely resembled the high-end versions designed by KCD’s clients; they also hired KCD to handle their store openings and media campaigns.
KCD came to represent the Council of Fashion Designers of America, the industry’s main booster organization in the United States. Anna Wintour, who effectively runs the annual gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, selected KCD to manage the flow of celebrities on its red carpet. And when Spindler died in 2004, KCD oversaw her memorial at the Rainbow Room atop Rockefeller Center.
Ed Filipowski and his partner, Julie Mannion, of the KCD firm relax at a 1996 Richard Tyler fashion show. Filipowski, a public relations executive who became one of the fashion industry’s most influential behind-the-scenes players, died Friday at age 58.