Confessions of a Fashion PR – Natalie Lewis reveals what it’s like to be one of fashion’s unforgettable fixers
- Yelling one minute, then air-kissing the next was all part of the job for former fashion PR Natalie Lewis.
- She represented a list of star designers, including Victoria Beckham, Anya Hindmarch and Bella Freud.
- Natalie recalls her life on the catwalk as one of fashion’s most prolific PRs
Once a year she pulls out an old quilted dress. That dress wouldn’t fit on my head these days. Yet in the closet it remains – hanging in the smelly void of those clothes we don’t throw away. Did I really have such thin shoulders, I wonder, before I fell into a mess and a pack of mini rolls.
But that dress holds a special place in my erstwhile fashion PR heart. It represents one of the many days of my old life when I represented the likes of Victoria Beckham, Anya Hindmarch and Bella Freud. I have several such clothing memories languishing in my wardrobe. This specifically represents the day of the Elspeth Gibson Spring/Summer 2000 show in September 1999.
“Who is Elspeth Gibson?” any of you under the age of 40 can cry. Those of us of a certain age will remember dreaming of pairing beaded skirts with cashmere jumpers. Or lace shirts with puffy sleeves. It was Elspeth. She was glorified. She won awards. She made household utensils. She had a massively successful high street childrenswear collaboration. Madonna was spotted in her little Knightsbridge shop, causing a frenzy. I was her PR and Elspeth took up so much of my time that it’s no wonder I still look at that dress and refuse to let it go.
Former fashion PR Natalie Lewis (left) has represented a list of star designers including Victoria Beckham, (right) Anya Hindmarch and Bella Freud
So what is fashion PR and who are these designers who rule our orbit? When you’re a freelance designer, you’re competing against big houses, other up-and-coming designers vying to be the next big thing, and the manager of your bank. But the first big rule: you must have a PR.
I lie. It’s not a rule. It is a commandment. Because your smart competitors will definitely have one. You need someone to be your advocate, ambassador, bad cop, therapist, and salesperson. PRs give you a showroom for your designs, where designers come to read and efficiently pick the pieces they want for a punk country story they’re shooting in a forest in Totnes.
‘Choose me! Choose me!’ screams the turquoise silk shirt hanging on the rail, as the PR pretends to look at her phone but inwardly cries, ‘Pick the shirt! Choose the shirt! Otherwise I’m in trouble with my client.’
Natalie on the Fashion Awards red carpet with designer Martha Ward. She recalls her life on the catwalk as one of fashion’s most prolific PRs
Your PR ensures that your clothes are featured in magazines and online. They send outfits to influencers, celebrities and, shamelessly, maître d’s to secure reservations. Meaningful quotes attributed to you (written by your PR) on the lemon leggings trend are featured in newspaper articles. They write press releases announcing your new collaboration with a waxing brand and make it sound classy. They throw parties to celebrate the arrival of your new partnership with a sock brand and give everyone a pair of socks. They take you out to breakfast with retailers, lunch with editors, stroke your hair and your ego, and beg you to include pink mohair in your next collection because they’ve heard it’s going to be the next big thing.
When Elspeth showed up at the doors of Brower Lewis PR, the agency I own with my friend Tracy Brower, we knew we had hit the jackpot. Lilac lace bell sleeve shirts that needed a promotion? This is what we have always dreamed of! A place in our Central London showroom for thruppen a month and a clothing allowance? Of course we can! We have to work 16 hour days for you to yell at us because you didn’t appear in Elle? No problem! I’m not specific about Elspeth. She is just one character in the life story of a fashion PR agency and I adored her.
Designer Elspeth Gibson with Naomi Campbell in the dress Natalie will never forget
But it took six grueling months to get to the moment when Naomi Campbell walked the catwalk in that glittering dress. It’s a story of finding funding – sponsorship falls under the responsibility of a PR. And a place – location disclosure depends on PR. Provide a designer? Ask the PR. Getting someone to make the music – humming new unfamiliar ‘sounds’ is also the responsibility of PR. Calling a model casting director to take on the show also seems to fall under the umbrella of public relations. All of this is before negotiating with a producer to oversee the show, working on invitations and the photographer’s booth, including fights over whose lens has the best position. And scariest of all – the seating plan. Only a fashion PR can convince someone in five-inch heels and an outfit they’ve been planning for a week that standing on their back is a privilege – it’s a masterclass in negotiation.
I’ve been yelled at and accused of having a brain the size of an acorn (in print) by a columnist I wouldn’t give access to a show in New York. I’ve been pushed, shoved, hugged, kissed, and worst of all, ignored. I once listened to Tracy and described her as ‘pretty brunette’ and ‘heaviest blonde’ (no prizes for guessing who it was) and pretended I didn’t care.
But when the lights go down, the music comes on and the show starts – and the pictures are in the morning papers – all the pain is forgotten. That’s why you do it again. And again. Not with the same designer though. Oh no. After about eight seasons of the show, their light is finally fading because some new photos have arrived on the scene. The designer will want to get off the hamster wheel and decide he no longer needs a PR.
It’s a well-timed move as the PR agency will have just landed that newest designer straight from Central Saint Martins, triumphantly accepting a retainer fee of a pencil skirt a month. In addition, they are busy finding a venue for a display that truly reflects their new designer’s inspiration – the teapot with pearls that their great aunt found at a car boot sale. Pearl place with capacity for 300? A front row seat for Great Aunt Jean and her best friend Helena? ‘Happy to deal with all this!’ PR will scream, reaching for the mini scrolls.
- Natalie’s debut novel Don’t Believe The Hype will be published by Hodder & Stoughton next spring