MARKET FOCUS FASHION PR: She's gotta have it - The fashion crowd purchases items touted as 'essential' - but how do these pieces actually become such stylish bestsellers? Cindi Cook investigates

Each month, fashion editors pen an opener to the fashion well of their magazine, decreeing what will be in vogue for the coming season. They forecast fashion's 'new direction' and determine which of the items you bought last season should be relegated to the back of the closet - or abolished entirely from your wardrobe. What was short is now long, what was in is now out, and you better get with it, or get off the fashion bus.

Each month, fashion editors pen an opener to the fashion well of their magazine, decreeing what will be in vogue for the coming season. They forecast fashion's 'new direction' and determine which of the items you bought last season should be relegated to the back of the closet - or abolished entirely from your wardrobe. What was short is now long, what was in is now out, and you better get with it, or get off the fashion bus.

Each month, fashion editors pen an opener to the fashion well of their magazine, decreeing what will be in vogue for the coming season. They forecast fashion's 'new direction' and determine which of the items you bought last season should be relegated to the back of the closet - or abolished entirely from your wardrobe. What was short is now long, what was in is now out, and you better get with it, or get off the fashion bus.

And then there are the 'must haves' - those items that get singled out as the things to own. Vogue's 'Checklist,' Elle's 'Fashion Notebook' and Bazaar's 'The Bazaar' display the best of the best, often in big, bold color.

It's no different from kids and toys. But the fashion world is a competitive place. How does one stellar piece outweigh the others?



Getting to the source

While putting any item in the hands of the consumers who make fashion happen is half the battle, establishing a relationship with an editor at a magazine is key to getting some editorial play. Those relationships are inevitably stronger for the more tried-and-true brands. A call from the public relations department of Louis Vuitton or Calvin Klein may be accepted easier and faster by a fashion editor than one by a new brand trying to break into the ranks.

Keri Levitt, president of Keri Levitt Communications, knows all too well how hard that push can be. In business for only a few years, Levitt can count many new designers among her clientele, including Stephanie Hirsch.

The creations of Hirsch, who designs beaded bags, skirts and her signature bikinis, have skyrocketed to fame in the last year thanks to Levitt's push. She is carried in the best boutiques in New York and the Hamptons, including Scoop and Nellie M., and has had recent editorial coverage in magazines such as the all-powerful Vogue.

'Obviously strong relationships are really important,' says Levitt. 'The rapport you have with an editor is a huge part of it; otherwise, forget it.' Levitt feels that a grassroots approach is often best. She adds that getting to know the editors - as well as believing in your product - helps tremendously.

Turning the head of the fashion editor, though, isn't always easy. Often, it's the job of the public relations person to suggest what might make them take notice. 'Stephanie Hirsch is doing crystals and rhinestone bikinis this season, and we thought, 'How can we push this concept further?'' Levitt encouraged Hirsch to come up with a matching beach cap - an item that may not have the salability of the suits, but nonetheless might look perfect in the right fashion story. 'Sometimes it's not what's going to sell; it's what's going to have a trickle-down effect,' she adds.



Celebrity style

The coup for any designer or PR firm is to get a piece on the body of the hottest celebrity. Having the newest Gucci glasses on the nose of Lenny Kravitz didn't hurt the business of Safilo, the US manufacturer for Gucci and Christian Dior Eyewear. Eden Wexler, manager for public relations, says, 'When Lenny fell in love with the Futura, they became the current big thing. Suddenly, Christian Dior was really hot and cool again.' Wexler describes the popularity of the Gucci-tinted sunglasses as 'out of control.'

'We can only turn out 300 pairs a week or so, and they're on back order by 600 pairs - and that doesn't include the rest of the world. The demand is far exceeding the supply,' she says.

Wexler says she works closely with all the magazines. 'We're basically a one-stop sunglass shop, They can make one call and have all the best brands, one big selection for what's most suitable for their story. They may call me for Gucci, but will get some of the other brands.'

But she has never seen anything like this, even though she carries all the other top names, like Polo Ralph Lauren and Christian Dior. 'I've had magazines call other magazines for them since we don't have any supply.

The Gucci tinted aviators - or 'shields' as they are commonly called - have also really taken off. 'I was just at the 'Women Who Rock' event, and I hand-picked the eyewear for every celebrity at the event,' says Wexler. 'When they start wearing it, and get photographed in it, people really start to notice. They say, 'Wow, these styles are cool; we can really wear this stuff.''

The resurgence of some trends - especially the more outrageous or colorful - does give one pause. But when they are seen on Cameron Diaz or Gwyneth Paltrow, somehow one's fashion perspective changes.

'Seeing the models photographed in People or US Weekly at an event makes it much more acceptable to the everyday consumer.' says Wexler. 'We work with a lot of stylists who dress the stars and make sure we give the hottest, newest eyewear to them.'

Kilee Hughes, an account executive at Paul Wilmot Communications who handles fashion accounts such as John Bartlett and Oscar de la Renta, couldn't agree more.

'We work with a lot of celebrities. It's mostly their personal stylists, or even the celebrities themselves, who have called up asking for certain pieces.' Janet Jackson, Jennifer Lopez and Sarah Jessica Parker are just some of the stars that consistently want the items that Wilmot promotes.

Right now, Parker probably has the hottest look going on television. The Sex & the City star is seen - and heard - promoting the latest Dior saddle bag and Manolo Blahnik heels. She's a fashion flack's best friend. 'When it's put on television, you know it will have a huge impact,' says Hughes.

Keri Levitt also has a roster of Hollywood regulars to whom she has sent her designer's creations. 'We have sent Halle Berry the Inca bikini, which she has worn. Minnie Driver is also someone we work with. Michael Michele of ER loves Tufi Duek.'

Levitt pledges that she doesn't like to push things on stars. 'It's done in more of a friendly way,' she says. At the same time, she is not naive to the ways of her business. Levitt agrees that getting coverage is vital to the sustenance of any piece. In working with celebrity, getting it to the right person is essential, and ensuring it's photographed more so.

'It's useless to send things out as gifts if a star's not going to wear it,' Levitt says. 'It's our job as publicists to make sure the public knows she has that.'

Magazines and newspapers have the most influence in terms of coverage, and getting on the cover is the ultimate. 'When the general population sees that, it starts to generate some sort of interest,' says Hughes.

'When that's seen in magazines and on covers, it creates a buzz.'

But do consumers always follow a fashion editor's lead? Can't consumers occasionally discover their own must- have item? If they do, it seems to be the exception,rather than the rule.

'For us, it's the editors voice,' says Hughes. 'They know what they want to put in their magazine, and they know what's trendy. They work off one another, they see something, they read each other's magazines.'



Here's looking at you

Nelson Mui, senior writer at fashionwiredaily.com, knows firsthand that there is a collective consciousness about what goes into a fashion magazine. 'People are trained. They have a similar eye and pick the same look. Designers sense what is in the air and then all of a sudden it's on the runway. They have the same influences or eye, and the process yields the right mood.'

But beyond the common eye, Mui believes the must-have fad is a particularly fashionable phenomenon in itself. 'Everything is so item-driven in fashion right now. There's a certain fetishistic quality to it all.'



GOTTA GET IT: PR-FUELED ITEMS

Seeing the world through rose-colored glasses

ITEM: Tinted sunglasses

DESIGNER: Gucci

PRICE: dollars 170-180

Safilo's Wexler says placement is not terribly hard; she works closely with all the fashion magazines. Having a myriad of celebrities photographed wearing the shades didn't hurt either.



Clutch it to your person

ITEM: Logo clutch bag

DESIGNER: Louis Vuitton

PRICE: dollars 130

This bag was seen on the arm of every fashionista in the land last fall, and still is. Its diminutive size and well-known logo made it the surest thing all season. A spokesperson for LVMH says the brand has 'incredible staying power and prestige.' The clutch is just one more example of what they do best.



Baubles, bangles and beads

ITEM: Gold bangles/earrings

DESIGNER: Tiffany

PRICE: dollars 395/dollars 325

King Midas could well afford these charmers. All of us will now be material girls if we pick up on this stellar item. Martha Garritt, manager of public relations at Tiffany, says she has editors coming to her for information about suddenly hot items. Getting the right editorial placement has not been difficult, she says.



Gimme some skin

ITEM: Crocodile pants

DESIGNER: Calvin Klein

PRICE: dollars 22,000

Animal-rights activists could establish a commune on what it costs for these pants. Luscious as they look, the price tag is more than the starting salary of most college grads. All credit to the publicist: Virginia Smith, vice president of public relations at Calvin Klein.



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