NEW YORK, United States — Ed Filipowski, co-chairman of New York-based public relations agency KCD, died at his home in New York on Friday morning after complications following a recent surgery. He was 58.
A leader in a generation of powerhouse fashion PRs, Filipowski supported the industry’s transformation from a loose network of independently run brands into a global business driven by multinational conglomerates. Throughout his career, he worked to help shape the careers of John Galliano, Donatella Versace, Helmut Lang, Tom Ford and others.
Born outside of Pittsburgh, Filipowski earned a journalism degree from Northwestern University and moved to New York in the early 1980s. He met the publicist Kezia Keeble just a few years later, eager to work at her hip PR agency, Keeble Cavaco & Duka, which repped brands like Stephen Sprouse and the of-the-era retailer Charivari. “It all goes to back to Kezia,” Filipowski told BoF in 2016.
"Keija would strategize with Ed, and his contribution to her was great," co-founder Paul Cavaco said. "He innately knew all these things. It was just something that he was really good at."
When co-founder John Duka and Keeble passed away in 1989 and 1990, respectively, Filipowski and production lead Julie Mannion informally inherited the company, working alongside Cavaco. By 1991, they were named partners and, in 1992, when Cavaco left KCD to help Liz Tilberis relaunch Harper’s Bazaar as its fashion director, the agency was theirs.
"We spoke often of how blessed we were to have started our careers with the incredible mentors we had...and we were honoured to carry forth their legacy," Mannion said. "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."
“I didn't really have any plan whatsoever to own an agency,” Filipowski told BoF in 2016. “But Julie and I learned how to run our business quite successfully by fortunately having similar values, a tremendous lack of ego, never forgetting service first and the high ideals of our founders.”
Filipowski conducted himself over the next 30 years with those values in mind while navigating a constantly changing industry. Always on the ground working with his team at shows, often manning the door himself. "Somehow Ed had trained all of his publicists and they were always calm," Cavaco recalled. "Ed was always calm at the front of the house."
He was also there for the rise of the superstar designer, working with Ford while he was designing both Gucci and YSL, and remaining an advisor to Galliano from the time he opened his own brand through to his current station at Maison Margiela. "I think of the way he stood by John [Galliano] giving him the very best advice, and being a steadfast presence in life," American Vogue Editor-in-Chief Anna Wintour said on the publication's website. "But then Ed was always the first to pick up the phone and ask what he could do to help. And help he always did. For someone who preferred to be behind the scenes, he was at the center of absolutely everything.”
The publicist worked with both Alexander McQueen and his successor, Sarah Burton, as well as both Gianni and Donatella Versace. In a 1995 New York Times article on KCD, journalist Amy Spindler wrote that Filipowski "engineered the fashion coup" of the year by landing the Gianni's collection on the cover of Time magazine. The Times' piece hung framed in his office for decades to come, and he marked it as a turning point for the agency.
"I remember his strength when John and then Kezia died and most vividly his commitment to Donatella when Gianni was killed," Ford wrote via email. (The two met in 1986 at a party when they were both 25 years old.) "Our friendship deepened during our years together at Gucci and Yves St. Laurent and there were periods when 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."
"When I launched my collection in fall 2009, I had gone on unemployment and I had no money," Gurung said. "He saw the collection, he believed in it and he did it for pro bono. He believed in my dreams."
He may have been best known for turning talents into stars, but Filipowski was not blind to the changes coming for the industry — and the way fashion PR operates — embracing digital outlets and influencers far earlier than many others.
“I will always remember the kindness Ed showed to me in the very early days of BoF, giving constructive feedback and advice, encouraging me to stay true to my voice and providing valuable access and opportunities to create meaningful stories," said BoF's founder Imran Amed.
While he and Mannion continued to provide the suite of traditional services, including runway show production and sample trafficking, KCD also attracted clients outside of the fashion realm, including Apple, launched a digital division and reorganised to better reflect the shifts in client needs. “PR now, it's not formulaic," he told BoF in 2017. "Fifteen years ago it was formulaic…it was very a la carte. [Six years ago], we totally went from a formulaic approach in our strategies for our clients to this integrated approach…. And that was a major undertaking…. It was a whole worldwide realignment of the way of thinking for all of our employees.”
The experiments didn’t always work. KCD’s attempt to digitise fashion shows long before the rise of Instagram was never widely adopted, but it showed foresight into what was to come.
“Somewhere I learned to never talk about the past as if it should exist again,” Filipowski said. “I thought that was very wise advice. Just keep talking about going forward.”
Additional reporting by Chantal Fernandez.