Fashion’s fixers: It’s no longer enough to get just editorial coverage for fashion or cosmetic products. Diane Clehane discovers that publicists are turning into talent scouts to ensure their clients’ creations are photographed on

There’s always one defining fashion moment at the Academy Awards that endures long after the names of the winners have been forgotten.

There’s always one defining fashion moment at the Academy Awards that endures long after the names of the winners have been forgotten.

There’s always one defining fashion moment at the Academy Awards

that endures long after the names of the winners have been


It all started in 1995 when Uma Thurman showed up at the ceremonies in

her custom-designed, lilac Prada dress. Next came Courtney Love in

Versace as 1997’s most successful fashion makeover; the designer

received a whirlwind of publicity, rivaled only by Elizabeth Hurley’s

1993 appearance at the Four Weddings and A Funeral premiere wearing a

Versace ’safety pin’ dress.

Last year, Gwyneth Paltrow’s appearance at the Oscars in a

bubble-gum-hued ball gown by Ralph Lauren scored the front page of

Women’s Wear Daily. The dress sent women flocking to the designer’s

boutique before the actress barely had a chance to make the requisite

round of Oscar parties.

Randolph Duke scored a career-making coup when Minnie Driver arrived at

the Academy Awards in 1998 wearing his scarlet-red dress and a Mona

Lisa-like smile that sent the photographers into overdrive.

That night, the actress didn’t take home a gold statuette (she was

nominated for best supporting actress), but she was widely heralded as

the evening’s best-dressed attendee.

Celebrities have become the new supermodels. If they’re not walking down

a red carpet uttering the name of their outfit’s designer to anyone

within earshot, they’re adorning the pages - and practically every cover

- of the fashion and lifestyle magazines. This month, ER’s Julianna

Margulies strikes a pose on the newly celebrity-obsessed Allure and

Jennifer Aniston smiles seductively on the fashion industry’s new bible,


Forget about sex. Whether a company is hawking evening gowns or eye

shadow, it’s celebrity that sells. The right dress on the right star can

offer a critically important career boost to all concerned. The actress

becomes fashion’s newest star (at least for the next few months). The

designer of the now-famous frock is catapulted into the pop-culture


And it’s up to the publicists to make sure their designing clients come

up winners in the all-important celebrity sweepstakes.

The hysteria and hype that used to be limited to the Oscars has become a

part of the day-to-day business of promoting all types of products

within the fashion and beauty industries. Every award show has become a

photo op for star-savvy designers. Companies are hiring public relations

agencies that specialize in filling the front rows of the seasonal

fashion shows with celebrities. And media alerts for store openings and

benefits of every description boast guest lists composed of popular TV

stars, film actors and musicians - all sporting the latest fashions.

There was a time when only a handful of designers like Giorgio Armani

and Valentino dressed that select group of A-actors for the Academy

Awards and important movie premieres. But by the mid-’90s, designers

were beginning to hire in-house staff to handle celebrity requests and

agencies to entice celebrities to wear their clothes. Today, with an

estimated one billion viewers worldwide, the Academy Awards has become

the Super Bowl of fashion.

Everyone wants to get into the act. ’I even had a company send me

underwear once to wear for the ceremony,’ says actor Nick Nolte. ’I

said, ’Nobody will know I’m wearing them.’ They said that was okay

because they could tell everyone I was wearing their product. It’s

gotten out of control.’

But publicists looking for the priceless exposure celebrities bring

don’t think so. ’The truth is, there can’t be too much,’ says Ed

Filipowski, a partner at the New York City-based KCD, the agency that

has handled media relations and creative services for Versace since

1987. ’Celebrities have become a standard part of the mix for fashion


However, Filipowski warns that not just any celebrity will do: ’It’s

ineffective when the relationship isn’t natural. The Versaces have been

fortunate because they have developed relationships with key celebrities

that match their image. They worked with Catherine Zeta Jones at last

year’s Oscars; they dress Sting.’

Designers and manufacturers vying to snare top names are offering

increasingly elaborate perks that range from free airfare and

accommodation to their fashion shows, to clothes for the stars’

families. According to one insider, a top stylist was offered free

plastic surgery by a designer if she could get one of her clients to

wear a specific dress. ’There are people literally camping out on

people’s doorsteps in the middle of the night to get their clothes in

front of a star,’ says one PR exec. ’It’s become that crazy.’

But is all this effort worth it? Most definitely, says Amy Rosi,

director of PR at Escada. The 21-year-old company’s image was

transformed overnight from an elitist, somewhat stodgy fashion house to

a hot, of-the-moment label when Kim Basinger wore a custom-designed

Escada gown to the 1997 ceremonies. ’It jump-started our reputation,’

says Rosi. And in the hard-to-quantify world of PR, it increased


’We got calls from all over the country looking for the ’Kim Basinger’

dress,’ Rosi offers. ’One year later we put it on the line in different

colors, and it was extremely successful for us. There’s nothing like the

impression a star can create wearing your gown on the red carpet.’

Escada continues to build on its recent successes with Hollywood. ’We

are really dedicating our efforts to dressing ’friends of Escada,’’ Rosi

says. That list includes Sharon Stone, Annette Bening and Halle Berry

(who wore Escada at the recent premiere of her HBO film, Introducing

Dorothy Dandridge). Other celebrity ’friends’ of the house have helped

it gain valuable on-screen exposure. Angela Basset wore Escada Sport in

How Stella Got Her Groove Back and Jane Seymour will wear an Escada ball

gown in her new Showtime movie, Enslavement. ’Each side helps the

other,’ Rosi says. ’We don’t pay people to wear our clothes. And we’re

careful not to take advantage of the star and I think they appreciate


Leveraging the exposure gained from having a star wear something from a

fashion house requires good communication between all parties


’If we send out a media alert about what a star is wearing, it’s with

their absolute cooperation,’ Rosi says. ’A good publicist has to do her

homework. That’s the other side of it - it is about publicizing the


But that doesn’t happen without some difficulty. Designer Vera Wang was

approached by pop star Posh Spice to design her wedding dress for her

summer nuptials. Although the occasion was the biggest media event of

the year in Britain, Wang was unable to get any pictures of it to

accompany a press release sent out afterwards; OK magazine had bought

exclusive rights to the photographs.

’I couldn’t even get a sketch for Women’s Wear Daily,’ complains Laura

O’Brien, Vera Wang’s director of PR and advertising. But the designer

reaped the benefits in the end. Wang, who recently began selling her

bridal dresses in London, saw her business increase ’four-fold,’

according to O’Brien. ’We were flooded with calls at The Wedding Shop in

Knightsbridge from European and British clients,’ she says.

Kris Jones, associate vice president of entertainment at Rogers & Cowan,

says there’s an unspoken understanding between celebrities and the

companies when it comes to joint publicity efforts. Rogers & Cowan,

founded in 1950 to represent the popular stars of that era like Rita

Hayworth, started its fashion and beauty division in 1989 to capitalize

on the growing synergy between the worlds of fashion and entertainment.

Today, the agency’s client list includes Ray Ban, Cartier and Tommy

Hilfiger, in addition to its celebrity roster.

Rogers & Cowan arranged for the Natural Genius Astrologie fragrance line

to debut last month at the Los Angeles premiere of The Muse, the new

film featuring Sharon Stone, Andie McDowell and Albert Brooks. The

star-studded party at Spago served as the centerpiece of the post-event

PR campaign. ’There is an implicit arrangement that if celebrities are

at a public event seen wearing or using your product, they realize they

are going to be photographed - and whatever they do or say is fair

game,’ Jones says. After the Muse party, photos of the stars sampling

the product were sent to People, InStyle, and US magazines as well as

Variety and The Los Angeles Times.

Do agencies like Rogers & Cowan offer their fashion and beauty clients

special access to their celebrity clients? Only if it’s the right fit,

Jones says. ’We lead the way for them. But it doesn’t mean we’re telling

clients we’ll get these people to wear your product. It has to be a good


Fitting the right celebrity with the right designer or consumer product

has proved to be the key to the success of Style File, with offices in

New York and Los Angeles. Agency head Greg Link is even hired by other

agencies to make sure the A-listers attend events.

’Celebrities just bring another level of excitement,’ Link notes. ’With

celebrities attending, everybody is going to cover your event.’ Style

File worked with KCD on getting stars to make the opening of Versace’s

boutique in New York, and with Rogers & Cowan to place hot stars like

Wesley Snipes and Sean ’Puffy’ Combs in the front row of last year’s

Victoria Secret fashion show.

With stars being bombarded with every conceivable type of product, it

seems it pays to be creative - and generous. One recent and successful

example is the Bobbi Brown Makeup Suite - conceived by Style File - at

the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills during last year’s Academy


For two days before the Oscars, the company hosted an open house where

stars - and the journalists assigned to Oscar detail - could get their

hair and makeup done for free. The result was a non-stop flow of

actresses and reporters and stories in Allure, Mirabella and Jane.

At this year’s Sundance Film Festival, the concept served as the

template for the Estee Lauder Suite, which offered manicures, massages

and other services. The company also hosted a suite at the Toronto Film

Festival earlier this month.

With all the effort directed toward getting product to celebrities, has

the traditional editorial placements in the fashion magazines become

less important to designers? ’If you’ve got a star attached to a

product, the magazines are going to write about it and if the star knows

it’s a hot product there’s a better chance they’re going to wear it,’

Link notes.

’They both serve different but important purposes. One feeds into the


Designer James Purcell, who held his first show during New York City’s

fashion week earlier this month and has just signed Ted Inc. to handle

media relations and special celebrity projects, agrees both have their

place in an effective PR campaign. But, he says, if he had to choose

between the two, there’s no contest. ’It depends on who the star is but

if it involved dressing someone like Sela Ward (a customer) for the

Emmys, I’d choose to go with the star. That single image reaches a much

larger audience. And with shows like Entertainment Tonight and networks

like E! you can live on for six months in syndication.’

Spoken like a true Hollywood insider.


For those looking to get their goods into the hands of celebrities,

there is a newly important publicity venue at award shows - the gift


And we’re not talking little party favors here. This year’s bounty -

packaged in a real wooden treasure chest - is valued at over dollars

5,000 and includes a Nokia phone, a Kenneth Cole bag, Ray Ban

sunglasses, a Montblanc highlighter and a gift certificate for a weekend

stay at L’Ermitage in Beverly Hills.

According to Cheryl Cecchetto, president of Sequoia Productions and

creator of The Emmy Treasure Chest, the competition to be part of the

’special thank you’ that is given to the show’s presenters has increased

dramatically since she introduced the basket at last year’s show.

Cecchetto says she turned away more than 20 companies (another 20 made

the cut) looking to donate merchandise needed for 75 gift packages. What

are her criteria? ’First, we wanted a rounded gift basket - it has to be

a good mix of male and female items,’ she says. ’We offer category

exclusivity - we only want one spa package, one makeup company and one

liquor company. And I always work with people who have helped me with

other events.’ She adds, ’ Altoids has been with me for 10 years. I try

to honor those commitments.’

But sometimes the fabulous freebies don’t wind up in the hands of the

celebrities. ’A few people donate their gifts to be auctioned off for

charity,’ Cecchetto enthuses.

’Isn’t that nice?’

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