Tuesday, September 19, 2006

SMH banned from NY Fashion Week

And so New York Fashion Week ground to a halt. But it didn't end quite the way I had anticipated.

I came to this city hoping to learn more about its fashion industry and filed news stories, features, gossip – and of course blog posts – about its designers, its trends, its pain, not to mention its celebrity fixation. I thought I had a minor grasp on things.

But things took an unexpected turn at the last minute and the story wound up becoming something else entirely: a fascinating little snapshot of New York PR power politics.

Having seen more than 40 shows throughout the week, my hitherto unfettered access came to a screeching halt on Thursday night.

That was when I received a call from a one Kelly Cutrone – and found myself banned from her shows.

"I'm calling to say that you have been declined for the Jeremy Scott show," said Cutrone, who runs a New York PR agency called People's Revolution which produced a number of small, off-schedule shows in a venue called the Altman Building.

After having sent me an invitation for Scott's show and having welcomed me into others, Cutrone was calling to say I was persona non grata.

And it wasn't just Scott's show that she was banning me from – but in fact all future events staged by all of her clients.

The ban would moreover, she said, also cover all her international activities. She rattled off a list of cities where she staged events, including, I am sure she said, Moscow. She didn't mention that the ban extended to outer space, however, given the eccentricity of the performance, I started to wonder just how many aliens might be on her books.

Cutrone then also offered words to the effect that she would make it a personal mission to interfere with my ability to do my job "for the rest of your journalistic career".

"Dandy; I've entered the Pyongyang of PR," I thought to myself, before musing how uncanny it was that anybody throughout history who has ever purported to espouse a "people's revolution", inevitably wound up on a personal power trip, with a thin skin, a grossly overinflated sense of self-importance – not to mention a bad wardrobe. And how these "revolutions" always seemed to be accompanied by a media crackdown, however anathema that might be to the concept of democracy.

I wondered whether Cutrone could possibly be in breach of any UN resolutions. If so, I surmised, surely it's only a matter of time before George Bush decides to invade.

Cutrone added that she would also be suing me over what she claimed had been a "factually incorrect" story, adding that her father either owns or works at a top New York legal firm. I'm not sure if she mentioned this purely to big-note herself or to illustrate that the billings from her agency are so miniscule that she would be required to ask for a freebie from dad in order to get a case up.

So what prompted this dramatic volte-face?

A gossip snippet in the Herald column Fashion Police on Thursday.

The item was originally designed to be an exclusive preview of the new Jeremy Loves Ksubi collaboration range between Scott and the Sydney jeans brand. Due to be unveiled in Scott's show, the range launch had been mentioned in several newspaper stories in Australia, however none had as yet published any photos.

Having revealed Tsubi's trademark dispute with the US shoe manufacturer Tsubo in the Herald back in April, and then contributed to a second item that the Herald's US correspondent filed once the parties had reached an out-of-court settlement (hence the name change to Ksubi), I really wasn't expecting any exclusives from the Ksubi camp any time soon.

But PR agents change and, at the end of the day, publicity speaks louder than grudges – at least in Sydney perhaps – and I was given a preview.

That was the original plan – until I found myself standing outside Sunday's Costello Tagliapietra show, an off-schedule show that I was interested in covering. And, yes, it was a People's Revolution show – and I didn't have a ticket. Cutrone allowed me in, but not before weighing in loudly on an issue that had been bugging her vis-a-vis the Australian media.

It seems that, since word got out in Australia that Scott was doing a Ksubi collaboration, and that the range would be unveiled during New York Fashion Week, Cutrone had been inundated with inquiries from the Australian media about the show.

Cutrone went on to insist that the Australian media reports had been "factually incorrect" and that it was not to be a Ksubi show, but a Jeremy Scott show. She said this in a loud, and increasingly agitated voice and clearly did not mind who else heard it, because it was in full earshot of the line of people who were waiting to get into the show. And directly in front of three people I know, who were standing next to me.

I politely suggested that if Cutrone wasn't happy with the fact that Ksubi had been drumming up publicity over the Scott collaboration and show, that she should take it up with Ksubi.

At one point, Cutrone even attempted to play down the size of the range, dismissing it as "a couple" of items, adding there was even a possibility it might not be included in the show.

It was too good a story to ignore, a number of people overheard the conversation and the planned Jeremy Loves Ksubi item changed tack. The editors did not end up running the preview photo, which I personally was disappointed about. But this was an editorial decision and out of my hands.

Here's what was printed:

Jeremy hates Ksubi?
"Tomorrow, the Sydney label formerly known as Tsubi makes its New York runway debut – but will it make centre stage? It seems the US designer Jeremy Scott may be miffed by all the attention the Jeremy Loves Ksubi collaboration range is attracting. A public relations flack, claiming to represent Scott and Ksubi, bailed up Fashion Police to say: "This is definitely a Jeremy Scott show – it's not going to be a backstage photo op with Dan [Single] and George [Gorrow]". She dismissed the range – which features Scott's quirky Hotline and Finger Print graphics on Ksubi's skinny jeans, biker jackets and denim dresses – as nothing more than a "couple" of items and said it might not even make the final show cut. Meanwhile, in a Ksubi press release, Scott says: "What I think is extra special about our collaboration is that it really comes from a mutual admiration of one another - the humour, passion and a good time for all."

Sadly however, Cutrone's chipper phone call wasn't the end of the story.

I made no effort whatsoever to attend the show. It was raining and miserable, Fashion Week was over, I was over the likes of Kelly Cutrone and besides, why on Earth would I want to traipse across town in that weather to give one of Cutrone's clients a single column centimetre of free publicity?

Then I get word from the venue that Cutrone had tracked down a photograph of me – in fact this Fashion Season blog ID – and blown it up to create flyers to paste around the venue. The flyers reportedly included instructions in bold letters to staff in case I attempted to sneak in.

How absurd, I thought. I couldn't believe what I was hearing. But then someone retrieved one of the posters and showed it to me – as well as some video evidence of the front entrance area, complete with flyer [see top of post^].

After the show, according to a source who was standing near Cutrone at the time, she engaged herself in a conversation about me with several other people at one point, including Ksubi's George Gorrow, and Cutrone was overheard to say that she planned to "smoke" me "out of New York".

Gorrow is described as having clapped his hands together in glee at the prospect.

When one of Cutrone's staff members was asked what all the fuss was about and precisely what the person in the posters was supposed to have done, the staffer reportedly responded, "She wrote something which wasn't true".

Well it was true. But truth, it seems, is a dangerous commodity in the New York fashion business.

The following day I walked to take a look at the front window display that department store Henri Bendel had installed in honour of Sydneysider Josh Goot's first New York fashion show.

There were several mannequins kitted out in Goot gear and the visual merchandising team had plucked five quotes from Goot's press book, blown them up into large white letters and stuck them to the window.

Quotes from WWD, The Daily Telegraph and the Harper's Bazaar Daily were positioned to the side and in the bottom corners. But stretched right across the middle of the window, at eye level, just happened to be the following quote from me, published in May 2005:

"Josh Goot firmly established himself as a major new talent."
The Sydney Morning Herald

I was sorely tempted to get out my lip gloss and scrawl "Smoked out of town by Kelly Cutrone".

I wonder if in fact Cutrone would expect me to make the ban on her clients retrospective, so as to delete the reviews I had planned on the other People's Revolution shows already seen that week, including Costello Tagliapietra and Grey Ant?

Unfortunately I did not get to see one other People's Revolution show on Friday that I had wanted to – the name of which label unfortunately escapes me because, well, it's just so fringe. Cutrone's clients seem to be mostly small, edgy labels that one would assume would benefit enormously from publicity.

But sorry mate, I couldn't get to your show for the sole reason that your publicist cut you off from access to a media outlet whose website receives a half million visitors per day. I'm sure you won't miss the exposure.

Viva la revolucion.

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