Ed Filipowski: Recalling a Life Well Lived in Fashion

Designers,  editors, friends and colleagues shared fond memories of Ed Filipowski, the former co-chairman and chief strategist at KCD, during a virtual memorial service on Monday.

Filipowski, 58, one of the fashion industry’s most important media relations personalities of the last 30 years, died Jan. 10 from complications stemming from a surgery. The service was originally scheduled for May 1 at the Walter Kerr Theatre in New York but was postponed due to COVID-19.

Filipowski’s generosity, calm, empathy, support and professional counsel were constant themes throughout the 45-minute program, which was produced by KCD.

A close friend and adviser to many in the industry, Filipowski represented such clients as Tom Ford, Alexander McQueen, John Galliano at Maison Margiela, Versace, Givenchy, Tory Burch, Helmut Lang, Anna Sui, Victoria Beckham, Olivier Rousteing at Balmain, Tommy Hilfiger, Brandon Maxwell and Prabal Gurung.

The program featured a short film, directed by Nian Fish, about Filipowski’s life, with narrators Paul Cavaco, former partner at Keeble, Cavaco & Duka and stylist and creative director; Julie Mannion, chairman of KCD; Riccardo Tisci, chief creative officer of Burberry, and Elizabeth Saltzman, a London-based fashion stylist and fashion editor.

The film opened with Filipowski giving directions to the staff moments before a fashion show is about to begin. It took him from his birthplace in a small steel town outside Pittsburgh to writing for his high school newspaper to winning a full scholarship to Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. After coming to New York and taking on a publicity job at an ad agency, he interviewed with Kezia Keeble, partner in Keeble, Cavaco & Duka in his white Yohji Yamamoto shirt with a red flower (Yamamoto was a client) and landed the job.

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“She [Keeble] recognized in Ed something that she needed, which was a strategic mind that could take a client to where they wanted to go,” Cavaco said in the film. Keeble took Filipowski to Paris, where he saw his first fashion shows — Claude Montana, John Paul Gaultier and Chanel — and enjoyed the nightlife. It later showed Stephen Sprouse’s first big show in New York at Webster Hall, where Filipowski figured out a system to get editors and buyers into a show quickly. After Duka and Keeble died in 1989 and 1990, respectively, Filipowski and Mannion bought out Cavaco and took over the agency in 1991 and changed the name to KCD.

“Ed really believed in journalism. He always said he had two clients, ‘I have the designer, and I have the journalist,’” Mannion said.

The film recalled when European houses had brought in American designers, such as Tom Ford at Gucci, Narciso Rodriguez at Loewe, Michael Kors at Celine and Marc Jacobs at Louis Vuitton. “Ed had such strong instincts on how to build strategy that really propelled the designers he believed in to achieve their dreams.…Ed really had the vision, we’re going to specialize in p.r., we’re going to specialize in events, and we’re going to be the best at both. We decided the designer niche was going to be our strength,” Mannion said.

Saltzman said Filipowski’s humor was dark and funny. (The film showed an image of Filipowski dressed as “Ed-ele,” channelling Adele, in a blonde wig). Saltzman spoke about his love of the theater, and how he’d go to every show before anyone even knew about them and was obsessed with pop culture. He couldn’t miss a single episode of “American Idol” and would have VHS tapes sent to Paris.

He recognized how the digital revolution would change the landscape altogether, and that there was a new guard of designers who wanted to tell their stories in a fresh way. He would say that Olivier Rousteing opened Filipowski’s eyes to a new generation of fashion. The two things that Filipowski brought to the digital world were the digital fashion show and a podcast that he started with Maison Margiela. “Before all these influencers, there was Ed Filipowski,” Saltzman said.

Tisci said Filipowski gave him courage. “He had this very soft and calm way to say things which made sense,” said Tisci, noting he gave him confidence to be himself.

Mannion noted that he came up with KCD’s motto, “Make the Difference.”

“HIs staff was everything to him, they were his pride and joy. He loved mentoring and he loved teaching. He was loyal with his friends through good times and bad times,” Mannion said. While his truest loves were his beagles Sam, Charlie and Dudley, Mannion said, “His legacy will be those who worked with him. They’re going to carry that next generation forward,” she said.

The film concluded with a quote from Filipowski about how he welcomed change. “I’m very adaptable to change. It was Kezia who always said to me, ‘Ed, change is good.’ I’ve never had a fear of change. And I think not having a fear of change, and not getting stuck in the past are two important things.”

Following the film, Rousteing, Anna Wintour, WWD executive editor Bridget Foley, Nick Wooster, John Galliano and Rachna Shah shared their memories of Filipowski.

Wintour, editor in chief of Vogue, recalled how Filipowski lived by one very simple and straightforward maxim: “Whatever he did publicly for his friends and his clients — and for him the two were basically indivisible — had to be matched by the support he could give privately. This extraordinarily kind man’s generosity to those he admired and cared for was endless,” she said.

Wintour said his whole career was that he never courted the limelight for himself. “There was always a part of Ed that cherished his privacy and keeping a small part back from us. It gave him some respite from a world where he was needed and relied upon, a world where he is now missed,” she said.

Rousteing recalled that Filipowski would come to every one of his shows in Paris, and would give his opinions. “What I love about Ed is he always had an opinion. And he always made sure to question and to make you feel not doubting, but never be satisfied, always push yourself and be more ambitious.

“It’s really rare in fashion to find a real friendship and find a real support. Ed was someone who was always giving me love, strength and support and energy. That’s why I love you Ed,” Rousteing said.

Foley recalled how she worked with Filipowski for 30 years “during which in the industry grew and changed dramatically.”

“His passing is a huge loss that resonates both professionally and personally,” Foley said. “Ed was a pillar of the industry, a wellspring of strategic innovation and a center of common sense and calm through both subtle evolution and massive disruption.” She said from a journalist’s standpoint, Filipowski was a masterful communications executive. “He greatly respected the press and had a deep understanding of our role. He knew that as journalists, we’re not really an extension of a brand’s marketing arm, and he knew that not every story would be glowing.”

She recalled at a Zac Posen show when Barbara and Lauren Bush showed up in pretty, barely there Posen cocktail dresses, and the place erupted into a mad frenzy. “Ed gave the manic photographers their moment, but as they got more aggressive, he got more animated and uncharacteristically he cursed on the job and at a photographer, the F word.” He later said he never does that. Foley also spoke about how comforting Filipowski was throughout the week when she was in Paris covering the fashion shows when she heard that Patrick McCarthy, former chairman and editorial director of W magazine and Women’s Wear Daily, had died. “I hope he knew what it meant to me. It meant the world,” Foley said.

Wooster, a style consultant, recalled when he first met Filipowski in 1983. “Ed was not only my first friend in New York but my first gay friend,” he said. He remembered the only time when Filipowski did drag and he chose to be a nun. “It speaks to rigor and disciple, humorous but very stern,” Wooster said. “He was Sister Edwina of the Perpetual Fest. That really describes what our time was like in the mid-Eighties, 1983-1986.”

Galliano recalled Filipowski’s kindness in helping his return to fashion after he was fired from Christian Dior for anti-Semitic remarks and hate speech.

“It’s a story of empathy, of the silent, yet powerful support he showed me during my recovery, and the enduring encouragement in which he graced me until the day he left us,” Galliano said.

“To fashion, he was a pioneer within his field, a passionate force for the promotion of creativity and the human hand that drives it.…He had a childlike enthusiasm for progression and the transmission of ideas, which is rooted in the most authentic of motivations. I think it was the same instinct that led our paths to cross — he understood how I felt, he empathized with my situation.”

Galliano said he wanted to feel as anonymous as the lining itself, “but how do you remain behind the scenes while communicating your vision all at once?”

“Ed guided me with his instinct. He became a force of reassurance of confidence and kindness. He was instrumental in navigating my return to this industry,” Galliano said.

They would talk backstage before showtime about the latest show or newest film he’d seen or the latest beauty secret. “He was obsessed with my skin,” Galliano said. “Ed was perceptive and intuitive. He understood my frame of mind at a time when understanding meant the world,” Galliano said.

Rachna Shah, partner, managing director, p.r. and digital at KCD, described what it was like to work with Filipowski. “He made me laugh every day while teaching me everything I know,” Shah said.  She said his passion for fashion and designers was infectious, and he taught his employees to think outside the box. “It was inspiring to brainstorm with him. Diet Coke in hand, feet on his desk, as we’d furiously try to write down his words to use in our pitches,” he said.

He was legendary for treat week, such as giving his employees beauty packages, massages, indulgent lunches and trays of cinnamon buns when fashion  week was over.

“Ed was fun. His laughter was infectious and still rings in our ears,” she said. She said he took the time to talk to his team, would stop by their desks and ask how they were doing, and follow up with them. “Thank you Ed for being the best boss.  We miss you and will continue make you proud,” Shah said.



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