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While critics complained of sparse glitterati sitting in front rows during New York Fashion Week this year, that wasn’t the case at Catherine Malandrino’s show.
The contemporary line is a client of public relations firm Harrison & Shriftman, cofounded and owned by Elizabeth Harrison and her partner, Los Angeles-based Lara Shriftman. The firm made sure the fashion event had celebrities such as Janet Jackson, Mary J. Blige, Mena Suvari and Sophia Bush. Amanda Hearst, a member of New York’s social set and heiress to the publishing empire bearing her family moniker, was also in attendance.
Harrison and Shriftman’s luxury-focused publicity firm has a client roster that includes Veuve Clicquot, Grey Goose, BlackBerry, Westin Aruba, W Hotels, Samsonite, Koi Las Vegas, Holt Renfrew, Cartier, Cynthia Rowley, Flagstone Property Group and Fearless Yachts.
The petite Harrison describes her firm as “corptique.” In a market crowded with boutique firms operating in the shadows of larger, corporate establishments, she differentiates herself from the pack by melding the best of both worlds.
“We have coined this term because we’re corporate and we’re boutique,” said Harrison, of the term one of her employees came up with to describe the full-service firm. The company’s work runs the gamut from publicity to event planning and marketing. “We’re big and powerful enough to be corporate, but at the same time, we’re small and agile and creative,” she said.
The latest addition to the firm’s stable of clients is Nintendo, Japan’s largest brand after Toyota, which it won over with the help of a witty promotional video featuring celebrities such as Marlon Wayans and Christian Slater. “This was a group effort in the L.A. office, where they really used our celebrity contacts and went after Nintendo, and we won the account,” Harrison said at a recent staff meeting.
Following the meeting, Harrison and her firm’s fashion director, Lelle Henrichsen, attended a new business meeting with contemporary label Diab’less at the Apropro showroom. Harrison then had a meeting with former Polo Ralph Lauren and Nike executive Mindy Grossman, who is now at the Home Shopping Network.
The meeting was to discuss Harrison and Shriftman’s launch of its Party Confidential Collection this month on HSN, a 25-piece barware and tableware collection, along with three books on “creative entertaining.”
That afternoon, Harrison and a few of her staff met at Veuve Clicquot, where they tasted several varieties of the signature Champagne, including Yellow Label, Vintage, Rose and La Grande Dame.
Harrison topped off her day at Icon in the W Hotel on East 39th Street, where she sipped an electric blue cocktail, a concoction created by Icon’s newly installed executive chef, Michael Wurster. The Icon Patio Pear Breeze consisted of Grey Goose Citron vodka, blue curaçao liqueur, pineapple juice and pear puree, garnished with a violet edible orchid. Following the drinks, small plates of chicken lollypops (gourmet boneless buffalo wings), empanadas, white and yellowfin tuna and Waygu beef sliders were served.
Earlier in the day in her West 36th Street office, Harrison spoke candidly about her past experiences, both personal and work related, as well as her family. Her grandfather, the late Sandy Smith, helped start Anne Klein.
Raised in New York and Connecticut, she attended Lawrence Academy, the posh boarding school in Groton, Mass., “by choice,” she stressed, not because of her parents’ wishes. “I told my parents I was going to run away from home or go to boarding school because I really hated Connecticut,” Harrison said of her parents’ decision to move to Connecticut when she was 14. “I went to boarding school from the 10th through 12th grades and I loved it. It was the most amazing experience, it was the perfect school for me.”
Harrison earned an undergraduate degree from Sarah Lawrence College, the liberal arts school in Bronxville, N.Y., where she described herself as a fish out of water. She spent her entire junior year in Paris studying film. Prior to studying abroad, Harrison was pursuing a career in sociology or psychology. “I was the ‘normal’ person among all these eccentric, brilliant people…kind of like the normal, not-so-brilliant, but smart enough girl,” she said.
“I knew I didn’t want to be a designer. I knew I didn’t want to work on Seventh Avenue. I knew I didn’t want to be a buyer, and I knew I didn’t want to work in a department store. None of that was for me, but I wanted something creative and interesting, so when I got out of school, I went to work for a production company,” said Harrison, who, after realizing that her first job wasn’t for her, landed a gig at Elle in 1988 under the tutelage of then-fashion director Mary Russell.
After a stint at Elle, Harrison worked as an associate photo editor at Taxi magazine at Family Media, followed by a brief hiatus from the magazine world. After traveling solo around the world for a year and a half to Australia, New Zealand and Fiji, she came back to New York and worked in marketing and p.r. for publications such as Fame, Connoisseur and Worth. From Worth, Harrison found herself at her parent’s Rhett House Inn in South Carolina, where “The Prince of Tides” was filmed, and where she worked as assistant location manager on “Forrest Gump.” Five months later, Harrison got a job working for Peggy Siegal, where she focused on event planning and publicity, made a lot of contacts and learned “how to create a stellar guest list.” It was there that she was introduced to Shriftman.
“We didn’t know each other, but we got introduced by some mutual friends. We’re very different, but very complementary, and we felt like it was a good time for a new agency. There were a lot of established, great agencies, but there was nothing new,” said Harrison of her partner on their 1996 business launch.
Despite her demanding job, Harrison is a very hands-on mother to daughters Charlotte, 8, and Georgia, 5. She is married to real estate developer Keith Schweibel, who was also once a nationally ranked skier.
“Skiing is a big part of our lives,” said Harrison, “Both my girls are on ski teams. They ski all winter long on a team in New Jersey on Saturday and Sundays. Charlotte, who does downhill, is ranked number two in New Jersey for fastest.
“There is no such thing as balance — I have yet to find it. I think that, for me, you have to prioritize,” said Harrison.