The lights dim and the chatter of fashion industry insiders, celebrities, and socialites are replaced by the thumping sound of dance music. All eyes are focused on the peninsula shaped runway that juts out in the sea of well dressed people. Photographers, armed with Nikon cameras, jostle for position. As the beat of the music intensifies, the curtain bursts open and out struts an impossibly thin, yet strikingly beautiful model. She is clad in expensive fashion and walking in pumps with heels as long and thin as chopsticks.
One after another, long legged models stride up and down the runway, as fashion magazine editors scribble notes and photographers feverishly flash away, causing the room to resemble a 4th of July fireworks display. In less than 20 minutes the music dies and the show comes to an end. Backstage, the designer, models, and army of makeup artists, hair stylists, and production people exchange hugs and kisses. The champagne is brought out and for the first time in several weeks, Julie Mannion is able to exhale.
Mannion, one half of the partnership that owns KCD Worldwide, is a fashion industry veteran. At KCD, Mannion produces elaborate fashion shows and special events for such fashion icons as Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, Versace, and Marc Jacobs. She joined KCD right out of college, when it was known as Keeble Cavaco & Duka and run by original owners Kezia Keeble and John Duka. “KCD has been my only job,” said Mannion.
“After I graduated from college I knew that I wanted to be in fashion, so I moved to New York without really knowing what my options where. At first I didn’t have a job, but I was exceedingly lucky to get a position with Keeble Cavaco & Duka.” In the early 90’s, when health issues affected both Keeble and Duka, Mannion and current partner, Ed Filipowski, stepped up and assumed ownership of the company. Today KCD Worldwide is a thriving business with 25 employees and offices in New York and Paris.
I spoke recently with Mannion and asked her a few questions about KCD Worldwide and management.
What’s a typical day like for you?
It varies depending on the time of year. Recently we just wrapped up fashion week in New York City so most of my time was spent on fashion show productions. For instance, we coordinated Marc Jacobs’ runway show and perfume launch. I knew that Marc wanted to do a big show and after party so I had to find a location to support 1,200 people, get people to do the lighting and music, select a casting director, and interface with Marc’s team to put together a schedule. I also recently did a store opening for The Gap, featuring Sarah Jessica Parker. The Gap used our production because they knew it was going to be something out of the ordinary from what they typically do.
The fashion media relations industry has grown increasingly competitive over the years. How has KCD been able to maintain its market leading position?
I don’t think that Ed and I compete with anyone but ourselves. When we took over the business in 1991 we decided that we were going to focus on servicing our key clients. Fortunately, we had clients such as Calvin Klein that had been with us for many years and we knew that our clients would continue to do business with us as long as we provide them with excellent service. We built our company on the mandate of servicing our clients and the media. Additionally, we approach our clients from a strategic point of view. We talk with each client about where they are now and what are their needs, because each client is in a different growth period. Whether they have been in business twenty years or are just starting out like a Zac Posen, they all have unique needs that we try to meet.
How would you describe your management style?
Management takes a lot of work and is something that you have to believe in. As owners of the company, Ed and I take it as a serious responsibility to really set the example and provide leadership. Ed and I try to lead by example. We both put in the long hours and work exceptionally hard. We try to give [our employees] exposure to clients and to help them along their career path. We believe in the people we hire. We believe in championing them and making sure that everyone has a voice to ensure that they feel good about the work that they are doing. Team building is also an important part of my leadership. I try to build teams with different talents so that everyone brings something unique to the table.