A Glance inside the Gates

In the pantheon of fashion, the fashion publicist is the most powerful mortal on the planet.  They hold the keys that open the gates providing entrée to the gods, goddesses and titans of the runway. They are the priests and priestesses of media.  Without proper tribute, your request will never reach the deities of design.  Bravo’s first season of Kell on Earth shined a spotlight on the zany universe of fashion PR.  There are times when Ms. Kelly Cutrone and her team appear to be fierce Medusas piercing an arrow through the heart of any ne’er-do-well who does not have the fortitude to pass the series of tests it takes to make it in this glittery/grueling industry.  Truth is they are not far off the mark.  It takes the will of a titan and skin as thick as a Michelin tire to be successful as a fashion publicist.  A fact that Claudine Desola knows all to well.  She stands at the gilded gates, a place of undisputable power, but as I have come to learn, she wields her force in a benevolent manner.  “I wouldn’t say everyday is crazy, it’s pretty calm right now,” Claudine expresses, “but if you come when we’re putting an event together, everyone is running around and it looks like they have two heads.  I do think you need to have thick skin but not at all points because some clients are super chill. You just have to go with the flow.”

The most important role of a PR rep is to make a client desirable enough that a demand is created, which can also be interpreted as sell…sell…sell.  Fashion publicists look as if they lead a chic, glamorous life, but there is a lot of elbow grease behind all the shimmer.  To succeed at the business of public relations, one must have desire.   “I think it is important to know if you really want to do it or not.  It takes a certain type of person I think to be in PR because you have to be outgoing.  You can be an introvert but you have to be sort of an extrovert too,” Claudine explains, “You’re essentially a sales person. Do you want be in sales?  If the answer is no, then you don’t want to be in PR.  You are selling something whether it’s a person, event or a product.  Before you have the skills, you need to have the attitude.  That is fifty percent of what we do here.”

Claudine entered Marist College as a Communications major with a concentration in PR and Marketing and a minor in Fashion Merchandising.  While attending classes, she interned at JCrew, WWD and Pfizer Inc.  Soon after graduating with a B.A., Claudine received a phenomenal opportunity to work at Yeohlee Inc.  For three years Claudine carefully honed her skills working alongside one of the immortals of innovation.  As the public relations director/global sales account executive, she oversaw all press aspects of the 7th on Sixth Bryant Park shows, special events, trunk shows and exhibitions.  She was also part of the organizational team for ENERGETICS: Clothes and Enclosures, an international exhibition that combined the disciplines of fashion with architect Dr. Kenneth Yeang and designer Yeohlee Teng.  “That was a great experience because I did everything.  [Yeohlee] gets amazing inspiration from architecture [and] artists.  She is very intelligent, besides being talented; it’s almost to the point where you feel silly talking to her so you take notes and look it up later,” Claudine recalls jokingly. 

No one forgets their first time, for Claudine the first show she helped to organize came with a dose of anxiety.  “For the first five years of my career, especially at Yeohlee, I always got nervous, like freak-out nervous,” she says.  But over time this seasoned pro has learned to brush the nerves off her shoulders.  “I’m much calmer now. We just did a show with Kim Kardashian and we did a show with Pete Wentz and Khloe Kardashian.  We’ve gotten to work with some really amazing people so now there’s like a formula, if you do all the legwork you need to do, you’re organized, troubleshoot and if you’re encountering a problem, you let the client know sooner rather than later, there is no reason to be nervous,”  Claudine adds.  

 
 
Another element in Claudine’s formula of success is surrounding herself with an equally talented team.   After leaving Yeohlee, Claudine worked as a freelance publicist before moving to Fonte PR where she would meet future partner Reshma Patel.   At Fonte PR both Claudine and Reshma worked with fashion brands like Urban Outfitters.  In 2001, both Claudine and Reshma left Fonte to create a public relations and marketing agency that reflected their eclectic, “indie” style.    THINK PR became the result of their entrepreneurial efforts.  Claudine and Reshma employ a team of 18 publicists, with boutique offices in Manhattan and Los Angeles and offer publicity, event production, marketing and branding to an array of fashion, beauty, hospitality, design, art, luxury goods and entertainment clients.  “I think Reshma came up with it or one of the managers at the time,” Claudine answers when asked about the naming of THINK PR, “We looked it up and no one else had it.  And that was kind of what we were trying to do, not to be quirky, but it’s like ‘Think outside the box.’  We didn’t want to be so traditional.”
 
 

 

 

Since THINK PR opened its doors, Claudine, Reshma and staff have worked with DKNY Jeans, STYLELOUNGE, Rock & Republic, Too Faced Cosmetics, ArgyleCulture by Russell Simmons, Bensimon, EMU Australia and The Humane Society of the United States.  “A lot of what we do is thinking about how we are going to position someone, like this isn’t just a pen,” Claudine explains, “what can we say about this pen?  All of our clients have something so interesting about them, so the first step is for us to think about it; the second step is to get the editors to think about it.”  Other services offered at THINK PR are celebrity wardrobing for red carpet events, premiers and appearances as well as product placement.

Thinking outside of the box is not just a phrase for Claudine, it is a lifestyle.  In June 2005, Claudine launched Caravan; a refurbished RV converted into a clothing store on wheels.  The Caravan RV could be seen in densely populated areas in the city such as the West Village and the Meatpacking District creating a phenomenon.  In 2006, Caravan opened its first store in NoHo totally revamping the shopping experience by combining the elements of a cool lounge setting and a retail store, and in 2007, Caravan expanded opening an appointment only boutique in the Carnegie Hill area.  With Caravan, Claudine has met with numerous celebrities such as Ashlee Simpson, Chevy Chase, Eva Mendes, Gabrielle Union, Miley Cyrus, Sophia Bush, Penelope Cruz and Christy Turlington and dressed them in peices from the store.

Music is an essential component in fashion.  Designers use music to create the best aural effect and the music played in retail stores can transform a shopping experience.  Constantly searching for ways to expand her creative horizons, Claudine has started to dabble in world of DJing.  “It really is an art form,” Claudine says, ”cause you look at a really good DJ and they’re just doing amazing things up there.  But I guess it goes back to fashion, there are all these fashion houses that are all about music for their runway.  And it is a way to learn more about music.”   Merging the two worlds together Claudine interviewed 20 designers and asked about the songs they were listening to when designing their collection and on the day of their shows, their answers ended up becoming a mix that Claudine used at her first DJing gig.

To excel at DJing one must have the same inner abilities as a fashion publicist.  Desire, the ability to sale yourself, an extroverted personality and a deep knowledge about your craft are essentials.  DJs spend hours “digging in the crates” and downloading music to create an experience that is heard in the audience’s ears and expressed in their feet.   There is more to DJing than playing music; being able to lay a set down using vinyl, looping, blending, knowing when to drop the beat and let the song go are what make legendary DJs great.  “I use turntables.   I’m trying to do it the right way so it’s not just on the IPod,” Claudine states.   Just recently Claudine prepared a spring 2010 mix for Beba’s preview.  During fashion week she djed at Capitale.  The event  attracted musical celebrities such as Fabolous, Charles Hamilton, Josh Madden and Pras Michel.  On May 8th she will be DJing at Joonbug.com’s and FashionIndie.com’s Prom 2010.

With all Claudine’s achievements, she could rest easily at the threshold of fashion taking her place amongst its divine.  But for Claudine the journey to make sure the creative voices of the world are heard is one that continues.  “The one thing I love to do is to get more people to be inspired and come up with more creative ways to show creativity,” Claudine reveals, “You can have a creative idea, but you also have to figure out a way to present your idea.  I meet a lot of creative people, with good ideas that want to work with us so I also want to find ways to be more creative with my time too.  I have a lot of creative friends.  I have some friends that have lost their jobs and have been out of work for more than a year and they have brains of steel.  My goal is to raise enough capital here so I can figure out a way to put a creative team together because I think you’re better when you’re inspired, you do a better job.”

Dresses designed by Claudine

 

To learn more about THINK PR, visit www.thinkpublicrelations.com. 

 To learn more about Claudine’s DJing endeavors or Prom 2010, visit http://caravangirl.com/.

Photos provided by Claudine Desola 

The Fashion World Loses McQueen

 

The start of Mercedes Benz Fashion Week begins on a somber note.  This morning the fashion world awoke to the tragic news that future icon Alexander McQueen was found dead in his London home.  A statement released by his office stated: “On behalf of Lee McQueen’s family, Alexander McQueen today announces the tragic news that Lee McQueen, the founder and designer of the Alexander McQueen brand, has been found dead at his home.”

The company’s communications director, Samantha Garrett, discovered the body of the 40-year-old designer.  Scotland Yard was called to McQueen’s address at approximately 10:20 a.m. by an ambulance service after it had been reported that a man was found dead.  They said, “The death is being treated as non-suspicious.”

The sudden death of Alexander McQueen is sending shockwaves around the fashion world and Hollywood.  McQueen designs were a favorite among fashion trendsetters like Sarah Jessica Parker, Lady Gaga, Rihanna and Penelope Cruz.  He was also set to show McQ’s fall 2010 collection, McQueen’s contemporary label, at New York Fashion Week today, but it was cancelled.

British fashion designers have always been known for their risqué, daring, outrageous and sometimes bizarre take on fashion; McQueen was no exception.  Starting in London’s West End, he created his own label in 1992 where his clients included Prince Charles and Mikhail Gorbachev.  In 1996, he became head designer for the prestigious Givenchy design house.  In 2000, he re-launched his Alexander McQueen line after Gucci Group acquired 51% of the company in a partnership deal with McQueen, who remained the creative director.  McQueen had his own boutiques in New York, London, Los Angeles, Milan and Las Vegas.

McQueen built an empire with his bold fashion and irreverent British bloke behavior.  His antics and early designs earned him an early reputation of “L’Enfant terrible”, but it wasn’t long before his genius would overshadow his tomfoolery.  McQueen was one of the youngest designers to named “British Designer of the Year”, a title he won four times between 1996 and 2003. 

Alexander McQueen and his mother Joyce

It has been reported that McQueen’s death is an apparent suicide. He was scheduled to attend his mother’s funeral Thursday morning; she died on February 2.   The death of Alexander McQueen stings now, as the shock of his demise is still being absorbed.  The true effect of his death is still to come.  The company will rally, announce a new creative director and continue on his legacy, as Versace did after the horrific murder of Gianni Versace in 1997.  However, no one will be able to replace the talent that was Alexander McQueen.  We did not just lose a great designer; he was a visionary with a distinct voice.  Today we lost an artist.

B. Productions Grown and Sexy

Bill Marpet

The sun gives off a luminous glow as I step out of a taxi in front of 583 Park Avenue.  As I watch the doormen stand patiently outside the venue waiting for guests and the fashion elite to arrive, I notice Bill Marpet walking down the street.  He is dressed in a blue suit with white New Balance sneakers; his salt and pepper hair is pulled back in the classic ponytail that he has become known for.  The mantra for the day is comfortable chic.  Bill escorts me through the doors.  The hall inside of 583 Park Avenue is breathtaking.  An enormous chandelier hangs from center of the ceiling.  The green and white décor, Chaenomaeles trees, and white chairs exude a resort feel. The u-shaped runway is barren, but soon their will be a cadre of young women stomping in their heels, sporting luscious creations from Oscar De La Renta’s Resort collection. 

Bill working behind the scenes.

Once inside Bill begins checking on last minute details with B Productions assistant director J.D. Moll.  He discusses capturing the models as they walk with the crew downstairs, then it is up to the control area in the balcony where Bill will remain until the end of the show.  Everyone appears calm, but inside they know the stakes are high.  So much is riding on the next fifteen minutes, there is no room for error and nothing can be repeated.  After the show is over Bill leaves quietly through the door, the next step is to edit the film that was shot.  

That was my official introduction to Bill Marpet and B Productions last year; however I had a long standing relationship with this niche company that I was unaware of.  Some might say the Bill Marpet is the Keyser Söze of fashion; most models work with him and don’t know it. Bill doesn’t have a face as recognizable as Tracey Reese, Donna Karen or Ralph Lauren, but if you have watched Full Frontal Fashion then you have seen his work. 

Bill Marpet and Michael Kors

He and his team are the magicians behind the scenes ensuring that the designer’s runway shows are shot and edited for presentation to the masses.  B Productions videotapes over 300 runway shows yearly.  These videos have been shown on various channels including NBC, CBS, Fox and Oxygen.  For a man that devotes a huge portion of his working year to taping runway shows, fashion was not an industry Bill envisioned for his career path.  “I was a freelance camera man when I started out,” Bill comments about the creation of B. Productions, “I started getting hired to shoot things, not just fashion, but news magazines.  Then I started getting busy beyond what I could do.  I started hiring other cameramen to fill in, and that’s when I started the company.”

B. Productions was created in 1983 with a crew of two people.  It has now grown into a full scale production company hiring freelance crew to accommodate the demands of Fashion Week.  “In the beginning,” Bill says, “it was mostly fashion clients, and it was mostly the bigger names. Early clients were Calvin Klein, Bill Blass, [and] Anne Klein.” 

Bill Marpet and Carolina Herrera

From these early clients B Productions and Bill Marpet created a place to call their own within the fashion industry. “Designers didn’t have a record on video of their collections, Bill says, “they had their own shops within stores like Bloomingdales and Bergdorf Goodman and they wanted video that they could show there.  They wanted their own vision translated into video.  Gradually it just kind off steamrolled and kept going; I got selected more than me picking [clients] out.  When I first started my business we were doing around fifteen percent fashion, after a few years it grew into about eighty percent fashion and I kind off fell into this niche.” 

This niche is the cornerstone of B Productions, but this company isn’t only known for fashion.   Besides fashion B Productions shoots image pieces and corporate videos, news releases, commercials and documentaries.  Their hard work has garnered Bill and B Productions many accolades such as a CEBA and New York Emmy.

I’m sure for Bill Marpet and the members of B. Productions, 1983 must seems light years away. Generally when a model turns 26 he or she begins to think of other career options, but the appeal for B. Production’s services has only increased. When the tents were raised for the 2010 spring collections at Bryant Park B Productions videotaped over 100 shows and events, they also hit the internet taping a block of webisodes for WWD.com.  The titans of 7th Avenue still look to B. Productions to produce video that shows the artistry and sexiness of the fashion industry, sometimes getting old isn’t a bad thing.    

  Photos courtesy of J.D. Moll of B. Productions