PRIMING THE HYPE
WITH HOLLYWOOD’S HIGH SEASON IN EXPANSION MODE, PUBLICISTS ARE CRYING “WESTWARD, HO!”

Byline: Rose Apodaca Jones

Call it the year of the publicists. An unprecedented number of them rushed Hollywood this week, signaling that the Academy Awards have become as critical to the fashion and beauty industries as they are to the entertainment world.
“It’s a war zone out there,” sighed Los Angeles-based Susan Ashbrook Friday evening. “When I started eight years ago it was all so innocent and fun, but this time….”
This time there were enough in-house, contract and freelance publicists to fill the Shrine Auditorium. Of course, it was their clients’ dresses which they pitched and prayed would be there Sunday.
“We’re not aggressive about it,” said Anne Fahey, executive director of fashion public relations for Chanel, who flew out from New York last week for the fifth year. “The couture collection was so beautiful we had lots of calls. We just want to provide the last minute service with fittings and jewelry.”
Carlos Souza, head of international public relations for Valentino, returned for his third time. He and the Italian house’s New York publicist Dennis Wong introduced to the scene Christina Viera-Newton, the new public relations rep at the recently opened Rodeo Drive store. Despite Valentino’s long relationship with Hollywood, Souza first came on board when the “competition became more fierce. It’s even crazier now. But at the same time we feel much calmer; we know the process.”
Others campaigning this past week — some new, some not — included Carineh Martin from Prada, Charlotte Sprintis of Gucci, Kim Vernon from Calvin Klein, Mario Grasso of Vera Wang, Wanda McDaniel of Armani, Nancy Lucas of Dolce & Gabanna, and Sandra Graham with Randolph Duke.
Even Missoni came to the Chateau Marmont, its debut orchestrated by Kym Harris of Crespi Mariani, the six-year-old New York PR firm, and Gerlinde Hobel, the design house’s image consultant.
“We thought it was worth a trial to see what would happen,” said Hobel. “I needed to meet the stylists personally,” she said, although she acknowledged after a week of meet and greets day and night the house might benefit from having full-time representation again in Los Angeles.
That is the rallying cry among the handful of boutique agencies devoted to getting their clients’ fashion and beauty goods on celebrities — be it for events, editorial or as product placement. It’s become, in fact, somewhat of a cottage industry here.
“It used to be seasonal, not so now,” observed Ashbrook, whose Film Fashion firm has been a pioneer in this area. Out of a mid-century home in Beverly Hills which she rents as an office, Ashbrook showcases Escada, Daniel Swarovski, Christina Perrin, Me & Ro, Iceberg and others. “L.A. is an event town. I’m already working on premieres coming up. In the end, consistency is really important.”
Also celebrating her eighth year — and her mark on this arena — is Pierra Blodwell, who arrived from her native Italy with the intent of setting up such a service. As PRB, she and a staff of seven handle 17 accounts, including Roberto Cavalli, Krizia and Carolina Herrera. “Now I have clients from England, Switzerland, Italy. It’s expanded tremendously. Everybody worldwide is looking to be represented here.”
Marilyn Heston’s roster is as transcontinental, with Christian Dior, Lulu Guinness, Vidal Sassoon and MAC among her clients. “The brands need to be established year-round. The relationships are really the starting point for the work. When you know [the stylists and celebrities] they’re more willing to work with the brands you represent. They know you’ll give them a level of service.”
And that’s the point, the locals warn the newcomers. “Getting prepared for the Oscars is something that begins six months in advance,” said People’s Revolution partner Kelly Cutrone, whose Melrose Avenue door contains a staff of 14 and cases and racks of merch from Bulgari, Vivienne Westwood, Carlo Ponti, Fause Haten and others.
“A lot of houses come over and plop themselves in a hotel and expect the stylists and celebrities to beat the door down,” added People’s Revolution vice president Ted Byrns. “But it doesn’t necessarily mean people are going to see the collection.”