News

Clothes make the man

Ed Filipowski (BSJ83), president and chief strategist of KCD

For Ed Filipowski (BSJ83), the TV show “Lou Grant,” starring Ed Asner as a newspaper editor and Nancy Marchand as the publisher, was more than prime time entertainment. The show’s titular character also inspired Filipowski’s teenage dreams of becoming a writer. Little did he know back then that art and reality would soon collide. As a college freshman, the first person he met at Northwestern, on the steps of Chapin Hall, was Nancy Marchand, who was sending her daughter, Rachel Sparer (WCAS83), off to school.

“I still remember that moment so clearly,” he says. “That’s what my life and career have been like, a series of moments. Northwestern made me believe life was full of wonderful possibilities and the only way to be is fearless when they happen to you.”

Filipowski never became an editor like Lou Grant, but his job is even more high-profile. As co-president of KCD, one of the world’s most influential fashion PR firms, he represents many of industry’s iconic brands, such as Tory Burch, Marc Jacobs, Louis Vuitton, Alexander McQueen, Gucci and Prada. Under his tutelage, the firm has worked with some of the biggest breaking news stories in fashion and helped journalists cover the industry in a deeper, multi-dimensional way.

It’s all a far cry from Filipowski’s childhood in a small town in southwestern Pennsylvania, where his father was a steelworker. Realizing early on that he had a talent for writing, Filipowski started working for the local newspaper as well as the high school paper and radio station. “I was attracted to anything media-related, and I was driven to be a journalist,” he recalls. Fashion, too, was always in the back of his mind. “I’m gay,” he says matterof-factly, “I was born with the fashion gene.”

He knew Medill was the best journalism school, so he borrowed money from his sister for the application fee. “I was fortunate to get in the door,” he says, adding that he received nearly a full scholarship. “My partner aside, Northwestern is the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”

In Evanston, Filipowski immersed himself in campus life, joining Theta Chi fraternity, the activities and organizations board, and The Daily Northwestern, where he edited the first fashion supplement. Along the way, he realized he didn’t have the heart and soul to be a great writer, and that’s when he decided not to devote his life to being a journalist.

After graduation, he moved to New York City and shared an apartment with Sparer. Another NU alum, Jack Taylor, hired him as an assistant account executive in the rapidly growing ad agency Jordan, Case, Taylor & McGrath. There, Filipowski developed a solid understanding of brand strategy and product storytelling in a short period of time. He heard about KCD through a friend, and when the company landed a big client, he sent partner Kezia Keeble a bouquet with a congratulatory note. The flowers led to a meeting, which led to a job offer.

Over the next few years, he gained an understanding of the inner workings of the fashion industry from Keeble, a former Vogue editor. He also learned about fashion criticism from the firm’s other partner, John Duka (BSJ71), a former style reporter for The New York Times. KCD’s goal was to get fashion covered more seriously in the media beyond tabloid headlines.

“We have two clients here,” Filipowski says of KCD’s approach, “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’re 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.”

Filipowski and his co-president, Julie Mannion, assumed leadership roles early on after Keeble died of breast cancer and Duka died of AIDS. The co-presidents forged ahead thanks to their training, growing the firm into what it is today: an integrated company that offers PR services, fashion show and event production, and digital communications, with more than 80 employees in offices in London, New York and Paris. Filipowski has managed the communications for numerous high-profile news stories in the fashion world, such as the murder of Gianni Versace and the suicide of Alexander McQueen.

His passion for his work is so intense that he says the past 30 years have flown by. At this point, fashion is second nature
to him. The firm puts on almost 50 runway shows every season, and he knows every outfit by memory. Fashion even
extends into his personal life. His partner of more than 20 years, Mark Lee, is CEO of Barneys New York. “I still get emotional at fashion shows,” Filipowski says. “And when I’m standing with Sarah Burton at McQueen, and she’s taking me through her thought process, I can’t believe my life. It’s a privilege.”

When the PR industry went digital, Filipowski didn’t immediately rush to change his approach. Instead, he waited to learn more about client needs. As he watched digital trends emerge, he created the B2B site digitalfashionshows.com, featuring exclusive runway shows that allow journalists to cover online shows as if they were live. The site has a strong following, and now he’s seeking investment to grow and expand the unique
platform.

Today, Filipowski’s favorite part of his job is management. The majority of KCD’s employees report directly to him, and the firm has an impressive track record for retention, especially given the industry’s reputation for having high turnover. “I’m very personal and hands-on,” he says. “I tell everybody when they’re hired, ‘We will give back to you double what you give to us, because I want this to be a personally and professionally fulfilling experience for you.’”

He attributes his success at his agency to the knowledge and values he learned at Medill. “If you have good personal and professional values, and you work really hard, and if you’re good to people you work with and meet, it just happens,” he says.

"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.” - Ed Filipkowski