Celine Kaplan is one of those French women who seems incredibly perfect and intimidating from afar. (I mean, did you SEE her closet on the The Coveteur???) When you do meet her, she's still incredibly perfect, but also incredibly kind and a joy to be around. Ahh, the French.
Anyway, when I finally got a chance to know Celine while interviewing one of her clients--Laure from The Webster--I soon realized that she'd be the topic of my next Life With column. Celine's been doing PR for Bourjois and Eres (both owned by Chanel) for over a decade. That was, until the last year when Bourjois stopped distributing their makeup in the US. She still heads up the Eres US PR efforts, and has brought on some other clients you just might be interested in, including The Webster and...wait for it...Laduree! which is planning on opening up shop in America sooner than later.
Almost out of nowhere, Celine acquired her very own boutique firm, CKPR public relations. She and I recently sat down at Balthazaar--yes, even French people like it there--to chat about the industry, what it's like to be a high power PR, and why the only secret to getting what you want is hard work.
Fashionista: First off, I would love to talk about how you got your start and how you got to where you are now? Celine Kaplan: The first job that led me into this was I [repped] European painters in the US because I loved art and my parents were in that world so it was a good excuse to come to New York. To have their paintings in my house and to try to organize exhibits and everything. That kind of gave me a cause to be in the art world. But you kind of need massive longevity, with loads of money behind it. So after a few years I gave up, but that’s what gave me the taste of what is PR without really knowing what it was…I didn’t even know the words PR or what it was and what I wanted to do.
That was the first thing and did it for me. Then I worked for Air France because the other passion I have is traveling and I would get free tickets. Then I organized some PR things for them for a new terminal they were developing and again it was Air France and it was not really the kind of PR I wanted. By then I knew I was passionate about fashion and beauty and my first job in the field was with Bourjois when they opened in the US and at the time they had LaForce + Stevens as an agency which was great but they always bring somebody in house and I was already in house and that was the start.
Chanel owns Bourjois but also Eres. Eres was moving into our offices and I told them I was really looking forward to branch out, I’d done beauty PR for X amount of time and now I wanted to do something else. And they kind of trusted me with the job after Bourjois. I bothered them almost everyday and they’re like okay fine you can do it. So it was just being really, really lucky with people that trusted me and gave me the chance to do it. And then there was no turning back. Once you have a taste of doing beauty and fashion it’s over.
Then, Bourjois closed in the US in July. I was working for both of them then Eres closed its brick and mortar operation but kept wholesale and franchises so they kept me as a PR agency. I had to open my company in one month and say, “Okay fine, I’ll do it” and then somehow I started to work for The Webster because I knew that they were buying Eres [pieces for the store]. It’s such a pleasure and high fashion and I just love the store so much.
The Webster is so cool. I cannot wait to go! I know…I’m looking at the collection they have online and I’m reviewing the pieces they choose to select and I’m like I just want to be there… I just want to be there!
And then Laduree came along. Some people in Paris that I worked with at Bourjois recommended me and out of everybody they selected me.
So you’ve kind of stumbled upon your own PR agency? Yes, and now I have to…and I will deliver obviously. I know what I’m doing but it was not a master plan to be honest. Ten years ago I said yes one day I’ll have an agency and I’ll have clients that I love but it was just the same. Life pushed me into doing it and I love it…because I have the feeling that I’m working with people that--nothing compares. Which is really important to me because I have the feeling that if I was working with three swimsuit companies I would feel that if I was working with the press I have a feeling that if I said this is what I believe it would undermine…it would not resonate. Where these companies I’m super lucky. 100% I’m a consumer. I voted before I even worked there.
In anything in fashion, if you don’t really love the product, like when we write about stuff, if we don’t really love it, it’s obvious and then the readers don’t appreciate it. If you really care about something it resonates more with editors I’m sure… I buy stuff at The Webster for years, I wear Eres for X amount of years. Before even living in the US. Same with Bourjois. And Laduree....
Are you excited about Laduree? That’s amazing. I’m pinching myself I am so happy. You were at Bourjois for ten years before? Bourjois and Eres in house for 11 years.
And you did both? Yes.
What’s the difference between beauty PR and fashion PR in general? Beauty PR is much more competitive. It teaches you to be really creative. When you have a color collection you need to find a story behind it. There is a lot of thought that goes behind it and you have to be really efficient.
Fashion PR… it might be a bit less creative because the designer is the creator so it’s more the relationships, finding story angles, and everything. I’m really happy I started with beauty as a training ground and as a school and working Bourjois which was super creative and Paris would let me free reign and my understanding of the US market was like a really good progression. I think the opposite would have been tough.
When we’re looking for beauty writers it’s really important to me that they’re really good reporters and have that…like our beauty editor now is a nurse practitioner and she has this medical background and that’s very important to me because she’s very good about double checking. It takes a lot more attention to detail. And even in skincare or makeup like all of the allergy, all the FDA…it’s much more scientific. I feel that when you work with beauty when there’s a collection that comes out and it’s not fantastic you can always find your way around it because it’s a color story. If you work for a designer and all of a sudden the collection is bashed, what can you do? You have six months of it. To do both is the best because they feed on each other.
You have a son? I have a 14 year-old son.
Is he away at school? He’s in New York. He was away. His father lives in Thailand but now he’s in New York and loves to travel, he is bilingual obviously. What does he think about all of your fashion? It took him a while to understand. I remember I had this sweater from Chloe. Like really old but its’ now back in style… it’s kind of a rugby sweater. With a huge “F” on top of it. And years ago I was wearing it and my son was like, “Oh Maman, you’re always so fancy!” It’s not true! And he said, “Look there’s even an “F” like fancy on your sweater.” Now he’s starting to understand. He gets it and I of course help—I want him to look cute and cool and then the other day a fashion photographer stopped him on the street and said “oh my god you look so cool I love your bag and the shoes” and he said “oh maybe he knows my mom.’” Which probably the guy didn’t but he’s finally starting to understand that it’s the business, that’s how we live in New York financially so he’s starting to grasp it. I remember the first few years even when we were doing backstage with Bourjois and we would do the makeup I would have the makeup team and organize the interviews backstage and sometimes if it was the weekend I would take him with me. “So what do you do, you drink coffee and talk to people? That’s your job Maman?” Actually kind of! It’s fun, it’s like an amazing way to be creative…it’s fun to talk about and think about. You really have the feeling that you’re not really working. That’s what I try to teach my son. It’s like do well in school so you can choose your job and do something that you love because then it’s not a burden ever and the day goes by and it’s never a burden. It’s super fortunate.
There are always people who want to be in fashion but want to get to the top really quickly. It sounds like you just worked really hard and were very persistent about everything. Do you have any advice in terms of that? What’s the most important thing for succeeding in this business? Patience, which I don’t have. First of all, it’s a huge business and you should take it seriously, but not seriously to a level-- because it’s only fashion, you’re not curing cancer. If one thing doesn’t happen exactly the way you want that day, turn it down, it’s okay. It’s not an open-heart surgery. With your team, the people you work with, you always deliver your best but it’s okay. Step back, read a lot. Because that spurs ideas and creativity. And that’s the way you step back and find new ways of dealing with it. That’s what I do.
What magazines do you love? Now I have to read the blogs. I love T, I love French Vogue, I love British Vogue, I read of course all of the American publications, for inspiration fashion wise and otherwise its Italian Vogue, Numero, it’s different inspiration. You know also need to know what’s happening in the world. Just be as much as possible aware of information. It’s tough because now you’re bombarded with it and you still have to do your job. This and travel helps me to step back--then your eyes are always open. To be on top of trends is the most important thing. Where have you seen lately that you’re really inspired by? A few months ago I was in Brazil and Buenos Ares. Everywhere in Brazil and in Buenos Ares is the best men’s fashion ever. And The Webster men’s store of course!—and its true!--but...wow. I really want to go so badly! I’m planning a trip to Zanzibar which is going to be a different kind of inspiration. When you are fortunate enough to be able to disconnect from the pace of New York…that’s a piece of advice I would say. You need to feed the creativity. Even though you’re not a creative person, you have to make it approachable to the press. It’s like going to the luxury sale store, and you have a sales person who doesn’t know what’s current in New York, where is the new exhibition, what is the new restaurant. You’re selling me something luxurious that’s part of a lifestyle and you’re not able to talk about that lifestyle and it's bothering me.
So you have to be well-rounded. Super helpful.
With Eres, I know this time is really busy but it must kind of be busy all the time because there’s always… Lingerie or the swim. February to April-May is the peak and then you have September, October, for all the Christmas gifts, the Caribbean getaways. And the lingerie for February. But it’s always busy. I would like to think that Eres, there is no competition really.
There really isn’t…I was just thinking that. It’s really French Vogue. I feel like every single French Vogue has Eres in it. I always make a joke with the Conde Nast publications like "you should rent me a cubicle in your office or downstairs" because that’s all we do is sample trafficking for these publications, like four a day because they've got different shoots going on for one magazine.
It feels like in terms of design, there’s really nothing on that level. And the fit—there are other brands that I won’t name but that are they’re cute. And I’m a shopaholic so even though I have a massive Eres collection I'll be honest I can change swimsuits three times a day...in Brazil I never wear the same, but I still would look, and it’s the fit. There is no comparison. Why is that? It’s been around since 1968. It’s really the architecture of the body, everything is studied to perfection. The fabric is a unique Eres fabric that’s not made for anyone else.
We were the first company—1968 was the student revolution in France. And the lady, the founder that created Eres, said the big slogan was “sous les pave” under the bricks—their clothes, the beach. Every student was sick of work work, work and the mentality of over-achievement. And she took it and started a swimwear company but year round. There was no beachwear company—it was seasonal. But she said you know what, my client is the jet set. When its summer in Brazil it’s the winter in France and vice versa. To this day, we have swimwear all year round. It’s not seasonal.
What is the signature swimsuit? The most iconic swimsuit from Eres? There is two that I can think of: The Ponce which was laser cut--to this day people ask!--and the Nico which was with the grommets.
And do they still make them or is it… Every season you have a really wide collection but you have one that is stuck in time. And you know it's Eres. And years from now you still know it's Eres. Anyway there are copies…a lot. This season I think it’s the Cache Cache. Do they go after the copies quite a bit? In France?
Yeah. Yes, but in the US the law is a little different. It’s not considered a copy unless you have the same name… like if you have an Eres tag. If you have a 20% design change…
We run these posts showing copies quite a bit. They’ve been trying to get it passed in Congress for like the last ten years and it probably never will but essentially you’ll have three years for complete control of your design and if someone does something you’ll be able to take action. That would be great. We run into issues....
It’s frustrating…. Everybody copies.
It bothers me more when it’s a new design. Like if someone makes a quilted bag, I’m not going to buy it anyways because I love my little Chanel bag. But it’s a quilted bag, it’s been in existence for years and years and years. But when it’s a new design that bothers me. I don’t wanna buy…especially because clothes are getting more expensive. If something’s $400, I don’t want to buy the $150 copy, what’s the point of that, it doesn’t make sense. Between the runways that are completely publicized … I think that’s going to The Webster or going to Eres or even Laduree in someway, it’s the experience, it’s the uniqueness. You can go to The Webster and buy the piece that nobody will have from any collection.
PS--If you love Celine as much as we do, she's hiring summer interns. Email a resume and cover letter to email@example.com .