Ed Filipowski, one of fashion’s most important and influential media relations personalities of the past 30 years, has died. He was co-chairman and chief strategist at KCD.
Filipowski, 58, died at his New York home Friday morning from complications stemming from a recent surgery, according to KCD.
“As co-chairman and chief strategist of KCD, Ed led the global agency for over 30 years and leaves a legacy as a champion of the fashion industry with his unbridled optimism and spirit,” according to a statement released by KCD Friday afternoon.
Filipowski ran the fashion public relations and production agency alongside longtime co-chairman Julie Mannion. He flourished in a high-pressured and difficult business, filled with many different personalities. Collaborative in nature, Filipowski brought brands together with his forward-thinking, hands-on approach.
Filipowski was responsible for public relations, while Mannion handled events and production services. The company’s growth mirrored the globalization of fashion, with offices in New York, Paris, London and Los Angeles.
KCD’s portfolio of clients over the years reads like a “who’s who” in the fashion industry, including names such as Tom Ford, Alexander McQueen, John Galliano at Maison Margiela, Versace, Givenchy, Tory Burch, Helmut Lang, Anna Sui, Victoria Beckham, Balmain, Tommy Hilfiger, Ralph Lauren, Brandon Maxwell, and Prabal Gurung.
Born in a small town outside Pittsburgh, Pa., in 1961, Filipowski graduated from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. He honed his brand strategy expertise at the advertising agency, Jordan Case & McGrath. In 1984, Filipowski joined Keeble, Cavaco & Duka as head of the public relations department under founders Kezia Keeble, Paul Cavaco and John Duka. In 1990, Filipowski, along with Julie Mannion, informally inherited the firm, working alongside Cavaco following the deaths of Duka and Keeble in 1989 and 1990, respectively. In 1991, Filipowski and Mannion were named partners of the agency, and renamed the firm KCD to honor the founders.
“Ed and I worked together for over 35 years,” said Mannion Friday. “We spoke often of how blessed we were to have started our careers with the incredible mentors we had — Kezia, Paul and John, and we were honored to carry forth their legacy. We grew the company together with a shared love of fashion and were always inspired by the designers and collaborators that we had the privilege to work with. Ed’s vision and passion set the course for what KCD stands for not only with our employees and clients but for the industry as a whole. Ed will forever be in my heart and it is with great pride that I will carry forth his spirit.”
The way Filipowski landed his job at Keeble, Cavaco & Duka clearly showed his ingenuity. He had always wanted to work there and knew that the agency recently won the Charivari account having read about it in The New York Times. He sent Keeble flowers in a Charivari bag saying that he’d love to work for her. She called him up immediately and said that she didn’t know him, but because he sent her flowers, she wanted to meet him.
Over the years, Filipowski and Mannion took a methodical, steady approach to expanding the business. When KCD extended its p.r., event and VIP services to Los Angeles, Filipowski told WWD, “We have always grown organically, such as with our London and Paris office and our digital division, and this wait-and-see approach has helped us carve out secure positionings and offerings of services. We don’t jump in the water, we navigate it with our expertise at the right time.” Today, KCD’s divisions run the gamut from media services, fashion show and event production to fashion services, digital and entertainment and technology.
Filipowski was always a friendly presence at the fashion shows, greeting editors and retailers as they entered the venues. Among his pet peeves, however, were editors who didn’t take their assigned seats, and those in the front row who were constantly on their cell phones.
In a Vanity Fair interview in 2015, Filipowski was asked what his fondest memory would be when he retired. “Anything I did with Helmut Lang will be my fondest memory,” he said. As for the biggest change he’d seen in his 30 years in the business, Filipowski said, “The divas are gone!” Asked to elaborate, he said, “I won’t name names, but there used to be a lot of dramatic, pushy, power-crazed editors. I think their absence is a very nice change, and you can quote me on that. The industry today realizes that it needs to be more of a smooth-running business, and people have to acknowledge there isn’t room for that kind of behavior.”
Filipowski spoke about the firm’s approach in an interview with Medill Magazine, the alumni publication, in 2014. “We have two clients here, the designer or the fashion house, and the media. Our job is to take care of both, not one or the other. It’s what we are known for. We’ve been respectful of the journalism codes and also the integrity of fashion. The bottom line is knowing what a good story is and the right place for it.”
Those who worked with him said that among his most memorable moments were Stephen Sprouse’s legendary first show at the Ritz club in 1984; when Gianni Versace joined KCD in 1989 to build his brand in the U.S.; the 7th on Sale Benefit for HIV AIDS in the Nineties and 2000s; Henri Bendel’s weeklong reopening on Fifth Avenue with a black-tie gala hosted by Jacqueline Onassis in 1991; bringing “Couture to the Street,” with a Chanel runway show in the West Village in 1991, and getting Gianni Versace’s clothes on the cover of Time Magazine in 1995 for a story on fashion’s return to the classics, a fashion coup at the time.
Other highlights were KCD’s collaboration with Helmut Lang on public relations and show production in the late Nineties and onward and KCD’s opening of a Paris office as European headquarters after becoming the public relations agency for Tom Ford, then creative director at Yves Saint Laurent, along with numerous CFDA Awards, Met Costume Institute Gala red carpets, H&M Live from Central Park, the Target Go Designer collaborations from 2006 to 2011, Elton John’s 60th birthday gala at The Cathedral of St. John the Divine in Harlem, and Galliano’s triumphant return with his first Maison Margiela Artisanal Show in 2015.
Filipowski and his then-partner of many years Mark Lee, former chief executive officer of Barneys New York, were known to host fashion dinners for designers in their Chelsea pre-war penthouse that was splashed with Richard Avedon originals and Sprouse paintings. He and Lee sold the apartment in March 2019. Filipowski bought his own Chelsea apartment in June 2018.
“It’s a tradition to have designers at our apartment,” he told WWD in 2017, as tacos and margaritas were being passed around his Chelsea penthouse living room for a party in honor of Mike Amiri, the Los Angeles men’s wear designer. “We’ve had Alber Elbaz here, we’ve had Helmut Lang here, we had Proenza Schouler here…we’ve had a lot of designers here over the course of the last seven years,” said Filipowski.
He had non-fashion professional interests, too. In 2014, when Filipowksi and Lee co-produced Terrence McNally’s Broadway show, “Mothers and Sons,” Narciso Rodriguez, Andrew Rosen, Jack McCollough, Lazaro Hernandez, Derek Lam, Prabal Gurung and Joseph Altuzarra were among those who turned up to support him at a preview.
In fact, Filipowski always strove to keep ahead of the curve. To try to ease fashion show attendees’ grueling schedules, KCD initiated its Digital Fashion Shows platform in 2012. Six months in the making, Filipowski said after playing therapist to many an editor, who complained about their jam-packed schedules, he sought to devise a program that would service his clients and the press. “It’s everything you would get at a runway show in one place. We’re not looking to replace the runway show,” Filipowski told WWD at that time. “I was intrigued by the idea of providing journalists and buyers with all the tools they need to report, cover and be informed about a collection right at their fingertips.”
In July 2012, for example, looking to offer more global fashion communications services, KCD forged a strategic partnership with Spring, the London-based studio complex and multichannel creative agency. Aiming for European expansion in 2011, KCD hired a then high-profile media executive Nan Richards as its European strategic growth consultant.
In 2010, when New York Fashion Week pulled up stakes from Bryant Park, Filipowski hoped that the new locale of the more removed Lincoln Center would bring a touch of exclusivity. “With a new generation of designers that are now becoming more established, it’s perfect timing to move on,” he told WWD.
Whether in the front of the house or behind-the-scenes, Filipowski always kept a watchful eye. “I know a lot of front-row crashers and I’ve never put them in the front row since,” he said in 2002. Accosting a departing critic with “What did you think of the show?” was also out-of-bounds by his standards. “I’ve heard from journalists that there are p.r.’s out there who do that. I find that horrifying,” he said.
While VIPs’ celebrity tantrums were a thing in the Nineties, Filipowski acknowledged the more orderly seating hierarchy in the Aughts. He told WWD in 2003, “There’s less politics and less infighting, and there are not the sorts of egos you had previously. As the venues have become more organized due to the tents and a very organized fashion week, most show producers and publicists have learned how to plan their shows to accommodate the front rows and the guests, who they need to put there.”
Designers, industry executives and editors were saddened by the news of Filipowski’s death.
“What a shock!” said Marc Jacobs. “I don’t even know what to say. I have known and worked with Ed as long as I can remember. In fact so long I don’t actually remember when we first met. Ed was always amazing. Fun, smart, charming. He always kept his composure and had things so together when everyone else (me mostly) seemed to be spinning out of control. He is a huge part of the fashion world. One of the big gears that keep things running.”
”My heart is broken“ said Helmut Lang. “I met Ed about 20 years or more ago and he watched over me ever since. He was an exceptional friend and human being, part of my chosen family and the best in the profession which he loved so much. Fiercely loyal, always calm and caring, full of wisdom, kindness and warmth and hysterically funny and of unparalleled integrity. He will always be in my heart.”
Diane von Furstenberg said, “Ed was the kindest, cleverest and most diplomatic person in his field. He was warm, firm and super efficient. I have so many memories of Ed, as a woman going into the shows, as a client, as a friend…he was an angel and he will remain that.”
Steven Kolb, ceo of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, called Filipowski’s impact on the CFDA “super significant.”
Kolb recalled when he started at the CFDA 14 years ago, he knew nothing about the industry and inherited KCD as its agency. “You know p.r. can be unclear on what a p.r. person does. Ed was a major influence on me as I learned the ropes and the business of fashion,” said Kolb. He said it was much more than just getting a story placed. “It was significant decisions I had to make over the past 14 years and he was someone I would always talk to. He was strategic and he always helped me lay out very smartly what options were to get to the place I had to be. He was a friend, really, and someone who had an incredible sense of humor. He clearly will be remembered for his work in fashion. He never took anything overtly seriously. He was more than that,” said Kolb.
“Ed was the very best in his job, a unique human being, and a dear friend of mine,” said Ralph Toledano, president of the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode, and formerly an executive at Richemont and Puig groups. “I met him at the end of the Eighties when André Leon Talley recommended him to Karl [Lagerfeld] to handle our press and p.r. in the U.S., and since then we continuously worked together. I think I never took any communication or design strategic decision without consulting with him, and he was always right.
“He was extremely smart, analytic, balanced, and so humble,” Toledano added. “He always stayed in the shadow while being always present. His calm and rigor were impressive. He understood exceptionally well and loved tremendously the fashion industry. His vision was unique. And it showed in his relationships with the designers, based on trust and loyalty: They all loved him.”
Ed Nardoza, former editor in chief of WWD, said, “Simply put, Ed was the best in the business. He handled the most difficult people and situations with grace, civility, intelligence, and, above all, integrity. This is a loss for the entire industry.”
“Ed was one of the most positive and visionary forces in our industry,” said Glenda Bailey, editor in chief of Harper’s Bazaar. “I learned a lot from his knowledge and kindness. He made the professional, personal. The thing I will miss most are his big bear hugs at the beginning of each season. Fashion can be accused of being superficial, but Ed was genuine — the real deal. We’ve lost a tremendous spirit and a great man.”
Donatella Versace said, “I’m so saddened by the news of Ed’s passing. For Gianni and myself, Ed was first of all a close friend and part of our family. Having had the chance to work with him was a pleasure, but getting to know the person was a privilege. May he Rest In Peace.”
Tom Ford said, “Ed was a truly exceptional person. We met in 1986 at a party and immediately became friends. We were both 25 years old. Ed worked for John and Kezia at KCD and I was at my first job as a design assistant on Seventh Avenue. It seems so long ago, and Ed and I lived so many chapters of our lives together that it is hard to believe that he is no longer with us. When I became creative director of Gucci in 1994, Ed was one of the first people that I called and we began working together. Ed had so many wonderful qualities: he was funny, self-deprecating, quick-witted, fiercely loyal and also very dedicated to his work, and more importantly to those that he worked with. I remember his strength when John and then Kezia died and most vividly his commitment to Donatella when Gianni was killed. Our friendship deepened during our years together at Gucci and Yves St. Laurent, and there were periods we spoke or saw each other every day. I adored Ed. He was brilliant at his job and even more brilliant as a friend. He was loyal and honest and sincere in a world where those traits are not always valued. I am deeply sad and heartbroken.”
Victoria Beckham said, “Ed and I worked closely together and the advice and support he gave was fundamental. Not only was he a superlative force in the industry, he was also incredibly kind. I will miss him terribly but I feel so fortunate to have had him as an integral part of my extended VB team family for so many years. My thoughts are with his loved ones and everyone at KCD — who I am certain will continue his legacy.“
Sarah Burton, creative director of Alexander McQueen, said, “I was so sad to learn of Ed’s passing. He was a wonderful man who helped using so many ways over the years. I will miss his warmth, kindness and support both professionally and personally.
”He always gave me good advice,” said Olivier Rousteing, creative director of Balmain. “He was always very down-to-earth and I always appreciate that in fashion.”
For example, he coached him to brush off bad reviews, telling him that major designers in the Nineties were also initially pilloried for collections that became historic and iconic.
Rousteing said Filipowksi supported him wholeheartedly when he launched his personal Instagram account. “He told me, ‘This is the new form of communication and you should push for it.”
Despite his cool and calm professional exterior, Rousteing said Filipowski could be reduced to tears by creativity. “He was moved by beauty, and he was moved by actions as well.”
Tommy Hilfiger recalled Friday that he met Filipowski 35 years ago, when his apparel brand was founded. “Keeble, Cavaco & Duka (KCD) was my first agency helping me initially position the brand. Ed was very involved in every aspect back then as he was up until recently. His vision, passion and professionalism never wavered. He was an important part of our industry, respected by everyone. He was a loyal friend we will all miss very much,” said Hilfiger.
Ralph Lauren said, “Everyone in our business knows KCD. For over 30 years, Ed with his partner, Julie, built it into the most respected name in public relations and event planning. Our collaboration goes back years and years. Our sympathy goes out to Julie and all our friends at KCD. Ed was one-of-a-kind.”
Paul Cavaco, cofounder and creative director of Studio Cavavo, who worked closely with Filipowski at KCD, recalled how Filipowski had “a calmness to him.”
“When you went to the shows, he was always at the front and he greeted you. If he knew you very well, he might walk you to your seat. You know what’s going on backstage was pandemonium, because it was fighting time. But if you went to a KCD show, you got right in. You didn’t wait outside in the cold. People weren’t fumbling around looking for your seat for you,” said Cavaco. “If you saw all the publicists, you could see that Ed trained them. When you look at all of KCD — the way the show production is done, the way the front-of-house is run, how you get seated — they’re very good strategists. It’s all handled before you get there. So he was able to present this calmness that then made you feel OK.,” said Cavaco.
In addition, attendees could count on KCD shows being on time “more or less, given whoever the designer was,” said Cavaco. “And if it was really badly not on time, you knew the next time, he was going to make sure it was on time. That was one of his great things — he was a wonderful strategist,” he said.
Rachna Shah, partner and managing director of p.r. and digital at KCD, said, “Ed was my partner and friend. He had an innate ability to recognize talent whether a designer, editor or employee. He hired me straight out of college because he appreciated a fellow journalism major. From the beginning, he was personally invested in teaching me, challenging me and helping me grow. Over the years our work relationship developed into an incredible friendship with our shared embarrassing love for ‘American Idol’ and our race to see every award-nominated movie. Although behind the scenes, Ed played an instrumental role in the evolution of the fashion industry, and I was fortunate to have been a part of this journey with him for over 22 years. It this visionary leadership and dedication to each employee that made KCD what it is today, and it is that legacy that the partners and I intend to carry into the future.”
Prabal Gurung said, “He was my mentor. He was someone who came on board from day-one. When I launched my collection, I literally started from my living room. He saw the collection and said, ‘All right, we’re on board.’ without even questioning, who, where, I had no money. He liked the clothes, he liked me. He said, ‘I believe in you. There’s something here.’ and without asking for anything in return. I mean who does that? He was established. He was KCD – he didn’t need to do that,” said Gurung. “From that day, he was the one who I would bring business decisions to. He would reach out to the biggest editors and the best people. When he was launching the London office, he asked me to come on board and I did.”
Filipowski was also very supportive when Gurung started speaking out about social issues. “He was just so, so kind and supportive. He was like a friend, a mentor, a confidant. You could talk to him about fashion, politics, social issues, your love issues — everything. Honestly, I wouldn’t be here, if it wasn’t for him. He and his team at KCD did everything. They got us that Target deal.” Gurung said.
In the 20 years that they worked together, Gurung observed that Filipowski “genuinely cared about the industry.” The designer recalled starting his foundation in Nepal and how encouraging Filipowski was about that. “He was an extremely thoughtful and kind person.” Gurung said.
Anna Sui recalled fond memories of showing her collections to Filipowski. “I’ll always remember how excited I was every season since my first show, fall 1991, to show Ed what my collection was about. He always had such great insight and words of encouragement. He gave me the strength to forge ahead,” said Sui.
“It is with deep sadness that I write these words: an incredible man and soul have left the world too soon and there is a real gap in my heart,” said Riccardo Tisci, chief creative officer of Burberry and previously the couturier at Givenchy. “I have incredible memories of Ed — he was a fantastic man and someone who always championed me from the very beginning. I had real trouble communicating with the world and he was the first person who guided me through that, taking me under his wing at appointments with press and journalists and teaching me how to navigate the industry. He had this amazing gift of understanding and knowing how to work with designers and creatives and always did so with generosity, kindness and humility. Around him I felt protected. More importantly, he was a sweet, kind man with an enormous and generous heart and was always so present even if we physically were far away from each other. I will miss him so much, and my thoughts and prayers are with his family.”
Tory Burch said, “Ed was a dear friend, an industry leader, and a champion of everyone. We were honored to work with him for so many years. Ed was a true gentleman and treated everyone with kindness and respect. I will miss him dearly.”
Joshua Schulman, ceo of Coach, said, “I am truly distraught to learn of Ed’s passing. For nearly 30 years, Ed has been presence in my career, and more importantly, my life. He was the consummate professional; the perfect diplomat and he led by example, always the calm in the eye of the fashion storm. He was the ultimate front-of-house guy, but he also guarded all of fashion’s secrets. He was a treasure trove of fashion history, yet never nostalgic and always looking forward.
”Ed taught me so much, from my first lessons on how to seat a fashion show (with sticky dots!) and how to find an apple pie in Paris on the Fourth of July (call The Ritz!), to the perfect diplomatic backstage comment after a mediocre show (“Wow, you’ve done it again!). But mostly he taught me about friendship, discretion, integrity and why we love fashion,” he said.
”My favorite story about Ed though was from before we met. In the early days of Keeble, he had to hand carry the sample of the iconic Stephen Sprouse jacket emblazoned with the words, “God Save New York” to Cher for her reunion appearance with Sonny on the David Letterman show. He picked up the sample the night before and wore the jacket out on the town to Area before delivering it to Cher the next day. While we all remember Ed at the door of a fashion show in his uniform of a navy blazer, v-neck sweater and APC jeans, my guess is that today, he is wearing the ‘God Save New York’ jacket up in heaven,” said Schulman.
Clare Waight Keller, creative director of Givenchy, said she first met Filipowski in 2006 when she joined Pringle of Scotland and KCD came on board to handle U.S. press.
“From the moment we started working together, we bonded immediately,” she recalled. “He always came with a smile, giant enthusiasm and genuine support for what I was doing. He was the person you could call anytime for anything and he would give you his time and his experienced opinion on any topic without any bias.
“One of Waight Keller’s favorite memories was her Givenchy couture show for fall 2018 that was an homage to the founder, Hubert de Givenchy, and spoke to Filipowski’s deep love of fashion and personal warmth.
“Ed came backstage in tears, gave me the biggest hug and said ‘I’m speechless, it was spectacular, I dreamed of this for you,'” she said.
“He believed in us at a very early stage as he has this amazing ability to understand the brands,” said Isabel Marant, calling him “instrumental” in building her U.S. business. “On top of being a great professional and having a wonderful vision, Ed has always been one of the nicest and most enthusiastic person I have had the chance to work with.”
”Ed Filipowski was a visionary and a force in the industry,” said Brandon Maxwell. “I’ll remember him for his kindness through phone calls, and letters to cheer me on, or to console me during difficult times. He is an example of what it means to lead with love. I’ll miss the comfort of knowing that he was firmly in my corner.”
Dennis Freedman, creative director of Dennis Freedman Studio, said, “It is very difficult to put into words the feelings I have at the moment. How do you describe someone whose life encompasses all the facets of moral character that you admire and respect so much and rarely find? Humility. Compassion. Wisdom. Loyalty. Sincerity. Trust. For those of us who were lucky enough to know and work with Ed, there is a void that can only be filled by the beautiful memories of him.”
Francisco Costa said Friday, “I am so saddened to hear of Ed’s passing. He was such a force at NYFW. It’s hard to imagine fashion week without him. They will be forever linked in my remembrance of Ed. He was always kind and had a great sense of humor and his presence in my world at Calvin Klein made me believe I had really made it. He was incredibly special and he will be missed.”
“Ed was generous, supportive and so kind. I will miss his enthusiasm, the way he lit up, and his rigor,” said Casey Cadwallader, creative director of Mugler.
Charlotte Blechman, chief marketing officer of Tom Ford, said, “For those who knew Ed, they knew about his magic. I was blessed enough to have had his magic in my life for the past 25 years. You always felt like the smartest and funniest person in a room when you were speaking to Ed. He had a way of getting what he wanted. He was kind, caring, wicked smart, and tough, yet he always was able to find the humor in the most difficult of circumstances…He played a formative role not only in my life, but in the lives of countless individuals. Ed is and will always be a true anchor in the industry, a true anchor in my life.”
Lynn Tesoro, cofounder and ceo of HL Group, a public relations firm, said, “I am so sad to learn of Ed’s passing. He was such a special person whose generosity had no bounds. Whenever I ran into him, no matter where in the world, I was met with a big hug and a huge laugh.”
Jaqui Lividini, founder and ceo of Lividini & Co., a brand strategy company, said, “Ed had the most wonderful smiling eyes. Whenever I would see him at a fashion show or event, there was something about a look from him that would immediately put me at ease, it was his gift — great warmth and kindness — and why people loved him so much. Nothing could ever go wrong when Ed was in charge.”
“Another light has gone out,” said Elizabeth Saltzman, the London-based international fashion stylist who had known Filipowski since she was 16. “He was a fashion great, a leader and spent his life teaching and giving to so many. Ed gives us reasons to be positive. He always found the bright side. I will be forever grateful to him for all he did for me and for all the people he introduced me to. I feel very, very lucky for all he taught and showed and gave, lucky to have known him. I am happy there’s a full moon tonight, so I can keep looking up to him.”
Robert Triefus, Gucci’s executive vice president, brand and customer engagement, said, “Ed was a defining presence in the industry for three decades, shaping the communications profession as we know it today. His legacy will be carried forward by all of those who had the good fortune to benefit from his mentorship.”
Pierre Rougier, founder of PR Consulting, said, “Ed and I met over 30 years ago when he was a young p.r. assistant in the prestigious Keeble, Cavaco & Duka and I was a very junior assistant at Yohji Yamamoto, their client. Over all these years, I have always found Ed to be an honest, friendly, fierce and kind colleague, not a competitor, a colleague. I am deeply saddened by his passing and my thoughts go to his family and innumerable friends.”
Filipowski is survived by his mother, brother, sister, nieces and nephews. A memorial service will be planned for a later date.