The office phones almost never ring anymore. On Friday afternoon, Rachna Shah, partner and managing director of p.r. and digital at KCD, called my landline. Ed Filipowski was dead. Over the years, I’d gotten three similarly ominous calls from Ed, about Stephen Sprouse, Alexander McQueen and Ingrid Sischy, each one gone way too early. Now Ed.
Ed was a pillar of the industry, a wellspring of strategic innovation and an epicenter of calm and common sense through the subtle evolutionary waves and cataclysmic disruptions of the past 30 years.
Those who worked for him, directly or indirectly, noted his incredible investment in their careers. Rachna said that, from the moment he hired her out of school, he was interested in “challenging me and helping me grow.” Charlotte Blechman, now Tom Ford’s chief marketing officer, who never worked at KCD, met Ed when she was at Gucci, a KCD client. “I was blessed enough to have had his magic in my life for the past 25 years,” she said.
Coach’s president Joshua Schulman, also a Gucci alumnus, said that Ed shared valuable lessons on topics as disparate as how to seat a show and where to find July Fourth apple pie in Paris. “But mostly,” Schulman said, “he taught me about friendship, discretion, integrity and why we love fashion.”
From a journalist’s perspective, Ed was all one could ask for in a brand-side senior communications/marketing rep. Read: He understood our role; he knew that as journalists, we’re not (at least in our own eyes) an extension of a brand’s marketing strategy, and that not every story will be glowing. And when there was “an issue” and over three decades, of course, there were issues, you never felt a scuffle would end a sound working relationship. In 2014, he articulated his respect for the codes of journalism and “also the integrity of fashion” in a piece in Medill Magazine, the alumni publication of Northwestern’s school of journalism, from which he graduated. “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,” Ed said.
Ed’s death has devastated the industry he loved, about which he was passionate and remarkably knowledgeable. He was an omnipresent figure, a powerhouse on the global fashion stage. Yet in their remembrances to WWD, many people were inclined to celebrate the person as much as the renowned, influential fashion executive. Helmut Lang called Ed “fiercely loyal, always calm and caring, full of wisdom.” Tom Ford said he was “brilliant at his job and even more brilliant as a friend.”
Words such as dignity, integrity and humor came up in reflections from a host of designers, including among others, Ralph Lauren, Donatella Versace, Marc Jacobs, Sarah Burton, Riccardo Tisci and Prabal Gurung. An oft-cited attribute: kindness.
That kindness showed at moments of fun and sadness. I know both from experience. Twenty-plus years ago, my daughter was a pop culture-loving middle-schooler when Versus showed in New York. I asked Ed if he could squeeze her and two friends into the show, in standing. The girls’ tickets came with seat numbers in a section different than mine. I was seated, as always, in the American press section, and the girls, directly across the runway, two rows behind Madonna. Of course, they were beside themselves. On Friday, when I called my daughter to tell her of Ed’s death, she recalled that Versus show and her Ed-facilitated adolescent brush with the Material Icon, a lifelong memory.
Leapfrog decades to fall 2019, last February. I learned that my dear friend and former boss Patrick McCarthy, onetime editorial director of Fairchild Publications, had died, the news coming literally as Miles Socha and I were about to leave our Paris office for the Saint Laurent show. The too-early death of someone you care about is always awful. For me, Patrick’s passing was awful and strange, because none of my current colleagues then in Paris with me had a relationship with Patrick similar to mine. Some knew him as well as you can a boss who comes to town four times a year, and respected him greatly. Some knew him only as a name; he’d been out of the industry for years. So while I was among friends, I was alone in the depth of my sadness about Patrick.
The morning after the Patrick news broke, the fashion flock headed to the Maison Margiela show. As usual, Ed, dressed in the house signature white lab coat, greeted arriving guests. He made a B-line for me, gave me a hug and stayed with me to talk in the way that you do when someone close to you dies — about life, changing times, the quirky relationship dynamics among some of us at a very particular, heady time in fashion — and the heck with everyone else with whom he should make small talk. He and Patrick had started out years earlier on a professional level and became friends, enough so that Ed understood my relationship with Patrick, that he was more to me than a former boss. For the rest of the week, Ed sought me out and gave me a hug at every KCD show. In those moments I felt less alone in grieving Patrick.
The following season, Ed sent an advance e-mail saying that he wouldn’t be at the spring 2020 shows in order to tend to some health issues. I’d been meaning to tell him how comforting he’d been to me when Patrick died, but I hadn’t. His e-mail gave me the chance. When he responded, he glossed over my thank you, apparently not wanting to focus on his own kindness. I hope he knew what it meant to me — it meant the world. I’ll always remember. Rest in peace, Ed.
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