Deborah Hughes Close Up ... A Formidable Fashion PR Force Sets Out On Her Own

- By Adrienne Weinfeld-Berg

copyright © 2000

A mere three weeks ago, at the tender age of 42, she figured she was "old enough to be the boss of me", so she set up her own PR shop on West 21st Street under the name of Deborah Hughes, Inc. Hughes is beautiful, sophisticated and smart, attributes which some could say are a perk when it comes to the business of PR.

First, she's surrounded herself in her new venture with a very savvy office-mate. Her co-anchor -- Cary Goretsky -- worked closely with Hughes at Krier. Second, she's already got an impressive client roster under her belt. A new restaurant, a Soho boutique, several hot websites and a designer apparel collection are already on board, with what looks like lots more clients to come.

THE LOOK ON-LINE recently got together with Hughes and Goretsky at Oriont, the hip restaurant in the trendy meatpacking district for this exclusive one-on-one interview. Here, Hughes speaks frankly about her past, her present and what she sees for the future of her business, the internet and her life.

LOL: What made you go out on your own now?

DH: I'm old enough to be the boss of me. Honestly, it wasn't that I didn't enjoy what I was doing; I just got to the point in my life where I just needed to have another outlook on what I was doing. And now, talking about all of the people we work for and with, we adore them, we believe in them and we're there twenty-four hours a day for them. And, you get to pick and choose and you get to do the things that you truly believe in, which I think is so important. I want to have a good time with it too. And I have to tell you, I'm so calm and so relaxed. We're doing everything at our own speed and at our own pace, although we work alot of times till 10 o'clock at night.

LOL: What's your title?
DH: We don't have titles. I just have to be the president on the checkbook.

LOL: Tell us about your clients.

DH: We represent Oriont, the fabulous restaurant that we're in right now and they've recently opened on West 14th Street,, which is an E-commerce and content site; they're a Seventh On Sixth sponsor for the next two years. We're doing a big project with Seventh On Sixth. We're putting together a big, big program during fashion week. As a matter of fact, they're in negotiations right now on the editorial end with a very prominent person in the beauty industry and hopefully that will happen very shortly; we're very excited. (Ed. note: could it be Polly Mellen?) The site is set to go up on September 12th and we're looking at a possible October launch party.

There's, which is also a web page, but it's more of a destination site ; they also have E-commerce. It's really fabulous because you can do reservations and get on a guest list on-line. They have interviews and it's all about New York. They're actually opening up in Miami and Los Angeles.

We have a store that's opening in SoHo called Stream. They have clothing, a tea salon on the bottom floor and an exhibition space on the third floor where they'll showcase young designers and artists. Then, there's Myth, a New York designer collection which launched in March. They'll be showing the new Spring line, by appointment, during Fashion week.

LOL: What's your background?

DH: I was born in Dayton, Ohio. I was a Wilhelmina model for nearly ten years, which was wonderful because I got to travel and meet lots of different people and learn different languages. I think travel is very important because it shapes and educates you. Because I came from the Midwest, there weren't alot of opportunities there for me to meet and go into other cultures. Although I think there were people that lived across the street from my family who were from Cuba that were fascinating. They spoke Spanish and they had great food all the time and they wore great clothes. Overall, I think travel is so good for the soul and it's something you can't learn in a book; it's sort of people and places from everywhere. So, I went all over the world and then I decided I needed to stop modeling because I was no longer stimulated mentally by it.

I went to work for Carolina Herrera in 1982 as director of advertising and PR. I had Wilhelmina pull my chart for six months because I was going to go off and do this; at least try it; try to have a career in something other than modeling and see if I liked it as something I'd be interested in. And, it's very interesting because fashion is something that never had any interest at all for me. I used to walk around in a pair of jeans and a T shirt and tennis shoes all the time; black tie, everything, same outfit. I couldn't put an outfit together to save my life. I didn't know what was appropriate or what was right or what was wrong.

I went to work for Carolina and I was there for 6 months and all of a sudden I was there for 9 months and then I was there for a year and I sort of said, oh my god. Carolina is like my dearest friend. She totally shaped my life. She's like my mother; my mentor. I love her. I adore her. But, there's a time in life when you have to go on. You have to be challenged and you have to grow. You have to continue to expand your horizons.

It was a great opportunity for me to go with Kevin in l997. I was there for 2 1/2 years as vice-president. I put the PR division back into his organization because it wasn't there for so long since they focused on shows and special events. I think that being a PR vp and all those things is like a very broad category. It's sort of like being a wife; it's that broad. It's like my mother and that means everything. There are no lines that are drawn. It's kind of like being a jack of all trades. You do what has to be done and it's not like, oh, this is my area over here and that's yours. So, you do what has to be done and however you get it done is how it works. Because Kevin does alot of shows and special events, I got the opportunity to know the different side of the business and be responsible for alot of other things like money and dollars. Now, I've taken the plunge on my own just in the last three weeks.

We've actually just taken space at 57 West 21st Street on the second floor but we don't have any phone lines yet, but we might tomorrow. We actually have Billy, a friend of Cary's, working with us and he's there right now, compiling a whole mailing of press kits. He has our entire space to himself and hopefully Bell Atlantic right there with him.

LOL: Will you work with Kevin Krier for show production?

DH: Absolutely. He's the best at it.

LOL: What makes your company different from the rest of the PR pack?

DH: Hopefully, Cary and I.. I just think people need help. People have relationships and synergies with one another and that's all it really is. However, some people just feel more comfortable with one person than the next.

LOL: So, you're the person who picks up the phone and calls an editor to pitch them a story?

DH: Cary does that and she does it so brilliantly. She does that so well, I can do the other things.

LOL: What do you like most about fashion PR?

DH: I think it's the people. You get to meet so many interesting people. My god, I've been in the industry for so long and I have so many good friends I've worked with over the years in all the different areas public relations encompasses, whether it be the editors or the writers or the models or the make-up artists. It's such a wonderful group of talented people that we work with and how we all sort of come together to make fashion, as it were. But, what is fashion anyway?

LOL: What do you like the least about fashion PR?

LOL: Was going out on your own a sudden decision on your part or something you had planned 6 months or a year down the line?

DH: It's something that Cary and I had talked about for a bit of time. The time had come for me to go on. I had come to a certain point in my life where it seemed right. I'm 42 and I think those are certain formative years.

CG: I think Deborah and I also found each other in a sense; we have a great personal and business relationship; a real friendship. And, I think in having each other, it all works. I always feel I have someone to depend on and Deborah feels the same. We tackle things and strategize together knowing that one can handle something the other can't. I think that makes a nice balance.

LOL: Has having your own business changed you?

DH: I didn't like the person I was a month ago. I didn't like the person I had become; a very sort of ugly person. So, my company was something that I needed to do for myself. I'm still doing the same things as before but it's just the manner in which I do them now that makes me content.

LOL: How do you see the internet impacting with your fashion clients?

DH: To me, I think the internet is still a bit of the wild, wild west. I think everyone's running for the gold right now and I think people really have to sort of learn how to deal with it, how to reach people and how to reach clients. It's a whole new world there and I don't think it's settled just yet and I don't think people have actually explored all of the possibilities. I think within the next few years, the technology, once it's sort of perfected itself, will have a great deal to do with it, like the T-1 line and the TV lines. I think the way we're looking at the internet companies we work with now, it's almost like this is all a dry run as to what will happen and that is the synchronization of our computer world, our E-commerce world, our retail world, our magazine world, our periodical world, will all somehow combine into one and it will be a real-time thing. It will be like something all-entertainment centered. So, I think that's all coming and it's like a big snowball that's just getting bigger and bigger and bigger.

LOL: Do you plan to use the internet aggressively to promote your clients?

DH: Yes and it's fascinating. It makes your life and your work so much more expedient. There are tools here that we never thought we'd have the ability to use, let alone have. Do you remember a time without fax machines? My god, what did we do before we had fax machines. But, I just don't know that everyone has the capability of receiving, say, an electronic press kit; however, I think this is all going to change and it will change soon.

CG: Take look books and press kits. I think that photograph-wise, it will happen first before any sense of video or an electronic press kit or anything like that. I think that just a look book is something that can be very easily put together. You scan in a picture and the quality is much better.

DH: I agree, but there are those out there that are so afraid of things like that and I don't know if it's about going back into time and the whole idea of stealing each other's designs and copying. I think the fear comes from that because once you've put it out there, it's out there for the entire world to see.

LOL: Do you think the internet will one day replace paper magazines?

DH: No. I think there's such an industry feel and touch and it's all about real senses that I don't think it will. But, I do think that once everything comes into one wire on your TV, it will become integral entertainment. I think we're really going into The Jetsons and that whole age. Take cell phones, for example. If you think about it, you can be sitting in a car and there'll be 5 phone lines in the car and like at home, you have one. It's all coming down the road. It's scary it really is. But, at the same time, it's all very, very exciting.

LOL: What about the creation of the "virtual" fashion model?

DH: Do you mean when they re-touch or recreate or manipulate everything like when they took Cindy Crawford's bellybutton off? Hello! But, it's all really scary, though. Where's the personality; where's the charm of the real human being? It gets lost.

LOL: Do you feel also that through the use of the internet all the charm of personal communication is lost?

DH: I think it is. To me, e-mail is one of the rudest forms of communication and when I look at an e-mail, I can't read it. There's all of these headers and numbers and everything. But, I still check my e-mail every now and then.

CG:I'll check my e-mails 4 or 5 times a day when I have a computer that's connected; I'll probably spend an hour on-line. I don't see e-mail like Deborah does and that's why we're on opposite sides of the box. I'm an MTV baby; that's what they call me. I can't even imagine my life without my computer. I think the ideas that I can say, "I've broken my leg", and send it to 19 of my closest friends and they'll get it immediately is charming. But, I don't read only e-mail; I read gossips and my WWD on-line, too.

LOL: Do you feel that your clients still want to see you personally, rather than communicate with you via e-mail?

DH: That's true.

LOL: A year ago, only a handful of firms even had e-mail addresses. What do you see for the future of fashion PR?

DH: Actually, Cary and I were just having this conversation this morning and how we sort of think the internet and websites and E-commerce and all of this is really going to change fashion as we know it or even the world as we know it and it seems like fashion is sort of the last to catch And, we were even talking about designers and design firms and when you go into their offices you see that they don't even have a computer on their desk or have e-mail. I think many designer don't. I think it's very interesting because I think they 're the last to get it. And, I also think the magazines are the last ones to get it but I think they're just now getting it. It will be interesting to see exactly how the fashion industry as a whole gets involved in all of this and precisely how it will change things. Will all of the designers sell their collections over the internet? Will they make it that much easier for the buyers to view and buy these collections over the internet? Time will tell but it is an interesting concept.

LOL: Speaking of the future, what are your thoughts on the Conde Nast buy of W and WWD?

DH: I think it's great. WWD is the bible. W is the one that's making all of the money; the ad pages and everything. What is it now, like number 2 or 3? They've done an amazing job with W over the years and it will be interesting to see what will happen now and into the future.

LOL: Where do you want to be in five years?

DH: Where do I want to be? I want to be at the foot of Mount Rushmore, selling postcards and Heineken beer.

LOL: People Magazine just wrote about you in their "The Real Runaway Brides" cover story. What kind of reaction did you get on the piece and how do you feel about it?

DH: I really don't feel anything about it. The whole thing with Ian happened so long ago and had I married him, my life probably would have been very different. We're no longer friends. I haven't talked to him in a long time. It was something that happened and I normally probably would not have done a story like this, but I thought I had to do it because the timing of the piece was really good. But, they kept asking me to put on a wedding dress or sit in a white limousine or something like that. I said no, either we do the picture part of the story in a very casual, real way -- which we finally did -- or I don't have to be in it at all. Alot of my friends have seen the story and the picture and have a laugh over it.

Deborah Hughes Public Relations, 57 West 21 Street, New York NY 10010 Telephone: 212-727-2220 fax: 212-727-2121

DFR: Daily Fashion Report