Breakfast is served at the Wolseley and Mandi Lennard looks out of place amid the restaurant's understated, business-suited clientele. Her long, bright blue nails are embossed with the Nike logo and she wears a jacket printed with a screaming face and accessorised with huge designer necklaces.
Lennard looks too young and edgy to be a traditional fashion PR professional. Not for her the Gaultier suits and Louboutin courts one might expect of someone in their early forties who counts among her clients designers Gareth Pugh and Roksanda Ilincic, style title Love and make-up giant MAC.
'If I did not work in this industry I would not give a shit,' she says candidly. 'The designer stuff I am into actually looks fake. It looks like I got it from a market.'
Despite a friendly email exchange setting up this interview, Lennard looks a little uncomfortable as PRWeek joins her. She does not often give interviews. 'It's part of being in PR - I enjoy being behind the scenes,' she says hurriedly. Then she looks down and exclaims, 'hey, you do shorthand!' and one experiences the natural charm that has made her a legendary fashion publicist.
To Lennard, PR is 'common sense'. She says it comes naturally: 'I never analyse. If something fails, I just get on with it. I am very PR, my mother was very PR. She would describe dinner parties to our neighbours in great detail - the same way I described Holland Park in a press release recently. I described it as "Holland Park, in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, in west central London".' She giggles wickedly. 'I mean, it's Holland Park! But US Vogue doesn't know where Holland Park is.'
It was a London park that gave Lennard her first taste of PR. On her first day at Marysia Woroniecka Publicity, she was asked to invite the press to Hyde Park for a photoshoot of quilts made by fashion designers to raise awareness of victims of Aids. 'I asked Marysia, "what do I do"? And she said, "just do it". That was the best thing anyone has ever said to me. Everyone is capable of working things out.'
Lennard duly assembled her photoshoot. 'I rang directory enquiries and asked to be put through to The Daily Telegraph. My first few calls were rubbish. After about five calls I got it - I had to say what I wanted to get across in the shortest time possible.' By the time she reached The Independent, she had cracked it. She managed to arrange for a deaf and mute photographer to cover the event, and the next day three-quarters of the front page was devoted to the picture.
Following her time with Marysia and at Carol Hayes Management handling PR for BHS, Lennard set up her eponymous agency with magazine Dazed & Confused as her first client. 'I have always worked with anything that interests me,' she says. From Brazilian footwear brand Melissa and high street brand Oasis, restauranteurs Bistrotheque and webzine and club night Ponystep, to undisputed fashion icon Barbie, her client list is varied but always on-trend. Lennard has an ability to spot what is cool.
She gained a reputation for representing young, up-and-coming designers, often for free. 'She is a house mother to London's most creative communities,' says Ben Reardon, editor of i-D magazine. 'It is Mandi to whom people turn for advice, promotion, a hug, kind words, or to borrow clothes to wear to some amazing party.'
Ilincic agrees: 'She has an incredible instinct to discover talent and great determination to nurture it.'
'It's a lifestyle choice,' replies Lennard when asked why she gave up her time for no financial reward. 'When I started out I benefited - my friend Millie from cosmetics brand Ruby & Millie let me have a desk in her office. She believed in me.' However, Lennard says she has decided to stop working with young designers and move into more corporate work: 'It feels like a grown-up, proper job. If somebody like my dad is looking at me and showing respect I am very happy and proud of myself.'
This change in focus means London Fashion Week (18-23 September) will be less of a landmark on Lennard's schedule. 'I have never really got on with the British Fashion Council,' she admits. 'I have organised all these events and it has never once rung and asked if I wanted any help. I would have said no. But that's all it would have taken.' That said, Lennard says she has a deep respect for the organisation: 'It is doing the best job it can. I would not want to have to deal with someone like me.'
She is still a huge cheerleader for London fashion. 'Our colleges are incredible and we were the first city to have a high street. No other city has what London has. We are a world leader in fashion.' According to Reardon, the love affair between London and Lennard is two-way. 'London loves Mandi Lennard.'
1998: Founder, Mandi Lennard Publicity
1997: Carol Hayes Management, working for BHS
1996: Marysia Woroniecka Publicity, working with Benetton
1989: Buyer, Browns
MANDI LENNARD'S TURNING POINTS
- What was your biggest career break?
Reading i-D magazine at home in Leeds - I knew I wanted to be part of the fashion action. My mother was an arts student so we were always going to London for exhibitions. Seeing Fiorucci on the Kings Road, the strawberry print carpet in the Kickers shop, and all the staff on roller skates at Jean Machine on Oxford Street made me realise London was where I needed to be, and fast.
- Have you had a notable mentor?
I have worked with Katie Grand for the past ten years and she still rocks my boat.
- What advice would you give to anyone climbing the career ladder?
Follow your dream, don't rely on anyone but yourself, and keep smiling. Having a job, any job, is crucial. It teaches so many life skills.
- What qualities do you prize in new recruits?
I like to surround myself with upbeat, enthusiastic, willing team members who are up for it. I think I am always right, so it is healthy for me to be challenged by other people's opinions.
- Tell PRWeek about your career turning point.