The Talk with Mauricio Padilha of MAO PR

Photo by  Meghan J Merkley

There is more to fashion than meets the eye.  Behind all that runway glam is hard work. The world of Fashion Public Relations is an exhilarating, fast-paced field where the hours are long, and the work is extensive. MAO PR have created one of the most well-known PR agencies in New York City. Today they produce fashion shows and carefully oversee the paths of all their great, young designers. We met Mauricio first time during Padilha brother's launch of the Gloss: The Work of Chris von Wangenheim - the first monograph on notorious photographer Chris von Wangenheim whose shocking work epitomized the glamour and excess of the 1970s and reflects the fashionable underworld living life on the edge. In this book the Padilha brothers revive von Wangenheim’s explosive depictions of the glamour and excess of the 1970s for a contemporary audience and reveal how his work continues to inform fashion imagery today. The launch was a huge success followed by a party hosted by Marc Jacobs for the brother to celebrate. Our second encounter happened during September Fashion Week in New York when we arrived to MAO PR office to chat about their work. The office was filled with the most precious pieces from various clients the agency represents. First thing that popped was blinged-out gold bomber jacket I later saw on Teyana Taylor, the star of Kanye West’s new ‘Fade’ music video during The Blonds 10th anniversary show. The ambience in the studio was exhilarating.

Mao was in the middle of working on seat assignments for the upcoming show the agency was producing. There was a large poster size white sheet on the table, with bent posit notes, with names on it.

J: Why are they bent like that?

M: Caroline Bessette Kennedy taught me to bend them this way because she said, it is easier to move them around while figuring out how to seat people appropriately.

J: Boy it's like doing wedding seating arrangements, isn't it ?

M: Exactly like that.

J: Let's talk about how you began your career in fashion. You graduated from Parsons school of design with a BFA in fashion design. Was Fashion Design your first choice?

M: No fashion design wasn’t my first choice, I wanted to do fashion illustration but at that time illustration was a dying art-form in most fashion magazines. I went into design because I thought I could get a job later just drawing and designing…little did I know what I was in for…Draping, Pattern Making, Sewing….ugh everything that I hated…but I stuck it out and graduated!

J: When and how did you make that switch from fashion to public relations?

M: I was working at Perry Ellis in the design room with their team when Marc Jacobs was head designer and when the editors would come into the office I would start chatting them up and talking about the collection and I would show them everything, one day Marc told me that I should go into the PR side of the business since I liked to TALK SO MUCH, hahaha…so I switched into the in-house PR/Show Production/Advertising dept. There I learned everything about producing a show and casting models and I was super happy!

J: Why public relations?

M: After Perry Ellis closed, I started working with a young designer called John Scher, I was able to work one on one with the fashion editors, stylists and celebrities there. I loved that I was getting to know and work more with the people that previously I only knew from seating them at the shows. After that I joined Roger at his design company called SPOOKY, they were getting tons of press, and every model was doing their shows for free, Helena Christensen, Gisele, Karen Elson, James King, Alek Wek, etc and all of our young designer friends would ask us to help them get great press and produce their shows. So when SPOOKY closed, in 1998 Roger and I immediately opened MAO Public Relations.

J: How do you choose whom you will take on as a client?

M: Roger and I choose clients based on their work and if we truly believe in it. We can not represent anyone who we aren’t fully behind. Our clients tend to be unknowns and after a season or two with us they have editorials and celebrity placements that are on par with many established designers.

J:Are there any clients out there who you’d love to sign and represent? If yes, who?

M: I would love to keep a balance of new designers and established designers, I enjoy the challenge of building a brands press from nothing, and also I love working with established brands to see what we can do with them going forward. I would love to sign brands like Altuzarra, or Thom Brown and I would love the opportunity to work with Donatella Versace its kinda great that she started in PR and went into design…the opposite of us.

J: Before opening your own firm what young designers did you work with and what was it like working as public relations director for young designers?

M: After Perry Ellis closed I worked with young designers such as John Scher, Gemma Khang, and eventually with my brother when he opened his own young designer label called SPOOKY in the early 90s.

Once we opened MAOPR we were able to start the careers of so many amazing young designers, Jason Wu’s first 5 years was with us, Peter Som’s first 4 years were with us, Rebecca Taylor, Kimora Lee Simons, Fausto Puglisi, Sally LaPointe, Gary Graham, Zaldy, and Esteban Cortezar to name a few.

J: MAO Public Relations has a reputation as one of the hardest working Fashion PR Agencies in the industry. What is your secret?

Photo by  Megan J Merkley

M: The secret is that we only take on clients who we believe in and respect the work they do. We could never represent someone who we did not truly love their work.

J: What do you think of social media exposure and how is it affecting your work?

M: Social media is great if you use it in an intelligent way. Sometimes I get fed up when certain blogs or sites that post a photo of Kendal Jenner in a tank top with the headline TANK TOPS ARE ALL THE RAGE, and the next day they put photos of GiGi Hadid in a long Green sweater with the headline LONG GREEN SWEATERS ARE ALL THE RAGE…I think many social media outlets post to post and they make uneducated decisions just to post something, but I do believe that it is a great way to PR if you do it in a smart way.

J:Who are your personal favorite young or old designers today?

M: Wow that’s a tough one…I think there is pretty much something from every designer that I can appreciate, but my current favorites are,

Saint Laurent, Ronald van der Kemp, Brandon maxwell, Iris van Herpen, Schiaparelli, Marc Jacobs, Anna Sui, Vivienne Westwood, Margiela, Dries van Noten, and anything Karl Lagerfeld does!

J: Let’s talk about Gloss: The Work of Chris von Wangenheim. I met you and your brother at the book signing in New York. What motivated you to do this book?

M: When we were kids we were obsessed with Chris’s image of Lisa Taylor and the doberman, at the time it was shocking for a fashion photograph, there was a heightened level of coolness that was not seen regularly in fashion photography. And since Chris died before the internet age, his work had been forgotten. After working on our Antonio Lopez book we contacted the Wangenheim family and to our surprise they loved our past two books and gave us exclusive rights to do a book on Chris’s work. We were ecstatic with the amount of press and adoration that the book received. Chris was an unsung hero who ended up getting the recognition that he deserved through our book.

J: What is the biggest accomplishment for you today?
M: My biggest accomplishment would be that my brother and I started MAOPR and after 18 years we are still in business, and we actually love what we do.

J: What is your secret in working successfully together with your brother?

M: The secret is that you have to have a sibling who has a similar esthetic to you. Roger and I were influenced by so many of the same things growing up, so we can trust each other, both on the business and creative levels.

J: What is next for you?

M: I never know, but the best part of working in PR is that it is a business that you are always looking forward, something exciting is always about to happen!

Photo by  Megan J Merkley

Text by Juliet Belkin
Photos by Megan J Merkley