copyright © 2000 The Look On-Line
A Life in Fashionland...The Paul Cavaco Story
- by Adrienne Weinfeld-Berg
Part 1: The Early Years
Some say that Paul Cavaco occupies a very singular place in the history of New York fashion and public relations because he's made all the right moves. He met, married, had a child with, formed a business with and he says he learned all about fashion from former Vogue editor Kezia Keeble. Other industry pros say he's just a sharp, lucky guy who's been in the right place at the right time. He says he's been influenced by people like Bruce Weber, Steven Meisel, Richard Avedon, Elizabeth Tilberis and Anna Wintour.
So, could it be he's parlayed just the right mix of talent and moxie to reach and remain at the top of this volatile profession? Here, in this exclusive LookOnLine interview -- one of only three he's ever given to the press -- Cavaco speaks candidly about the yesterdays, today's and tomorrows of his unusual life in this special two-part story. Part I begins here; Part II -- "Modern Times" continues next week.
LOL: Tell us about your background.
PC: I was born in Manhattan in 1951 at Lenox Hill Hospital. My dad's parents are from Spain. my mom's dad is from Spain and her mom is from Cuba. I grew up in the South Bronx, Queens and Manhattan. I went to CCNY where I majored in English Literature. I was the first college graduate in my family. I was always influenced by music. I loved rock, Motown and The Beatles. My favorite television show was The Little Rascals. (Ed.note - You could have been Darla, Cavaco said to this reporter.) As a youngster, I had no idea about fashion; I didn't know anything at all about it. My mom wasn't into fashion and my family didn't have a lot of money. So, growing up, it really wasn't about clothes for me. I only thought about clothes during the latter part of the l960's because of the way rock stars dressed; the bell-bottoms and stuff like that, which I cared about. But, I was a hippie and everybody I knew was a hippie and so we all thought we'd have to go and live on a farm. We thought, who wanted to live in the city and have the life your parents had. But, now we know better. So, I became a Buddhist and I chanted. I packed crafts for The Tribal Arts Gallery. I really haven't come all that far personally when it comes to fashion today. Basically, I still pretty much wear the same clothes I wore then; jeans, a T-shirt, boots, a coat and that's the end of it.
LOL: Which person has most influenced your life in fashion?
PC: Kezia Keeble, without a doubt. She was my mentor. She was it. She taught me everything about fashion. When I met Kezia, she had just finished working for Vogue and she was running a jewelry company named Willie Wu with her about-to-be ex-husband. Since Kezia was an editor at Vogue under Mrs. Vreeland, she would tell me all these wonderful fashion stories and that's how I began to learn about that world. Kezia had been in Vogue often because she was an interesting editor and was photographed for the editorial pages even though she was never a model. I learned a lot about fashion just by talking to Kezia and I thought at that time fashion was really fun and so very glamorous.
LOL: You've obviously worked with some of the 'greats' across the fashion industry. Tell us some of the stories about those people who have had an impact on your life.
PC: There's Bruce Weber, of course. He was a huge influence in my life. I worked with him a lot at the beginning of my career; a lot, a lot, a lot. He's not only a brilliant photographer, but he's also one of the most brilliant stylists in the world. So, to that end, he really taught me a lot about how to put clothes together. Plus, he's an interesting human being. He was great to me because he allowed me to do anything I wanted to do with no barriers. He'd say, "if you don't like this sweater, put it on as a pair of pants." The freedom and the education he gave me were really unique. And, he always had an open mind on the set, no matter what. He'd grab a bunch of clothes and say, "well, what about this?" Then, he'd put together some wild, crazy combination that looked so right.
Steven Meisel was another great influence for me. Like Bruce, Steven's a good collaborator and a great teacher. And, like Bruce, Steven has such beautiful taste. So, I learned about that, too. I learned how to edit in a very particular way, which is a skill that has served me well through the years.
I loved working in my early days with Richard Avedon. He's obviously one of the greatest photographers, ever. I was just a kid when I worked with him and the experience was incredible. I worked with him in his studio and we did GQ covers and lots of ads. He was like a dad to me; he was really careful and gentle with me. He'd always say to me, "where's the surprise?" So, from Richard, I learned that you can't just dress the person; you have to go much deeper. You have to always delight the eye. You have to give an intelligent and quirky twist to your fashion. So, Avedon was great at that because he needed the surprise and he expected you to give him the surprise. If you didn't, he was going to come up with that surprise all by himself and that would make you feel really dumb. So, that sort of kept you on your game all the time.
Elizabeth Tilberis was absolutely incredible. What was great for me with Liz was that she just let me be me who I was. She accepted me; never tried to change me at all. If I was petulant one day, she was fine with it. If I was in a good mood, she was fine with that, too. No matter what I was doing, she was fine with it. And, she loved photographs. So, it was always great to bring her your shooting because she'd love it. She totally understood what it took to get it, so it was wonderful to have the person you're answering to, easily understand what you went through. So, if a particular shoot wasn't so good, she understood why it wasn't the best thing you'd ever done. What made Liz so special to me was that she allowed her staff to do their individual thing and make their special contributions. She was extremely professional but she was also so human. Every morning, you'd go in and have a cup of coffee with her. That's how I started my day with her. We'd talk about work, kids, everything; so the humanity factor between us was there all the time. She'd toddle through the office; come sit at your desk and talk to you about everything and anything; it was a joy. The years I worked with Liz were full of joy.
LOL: How did you go about building your fashion career?
PC: In the beginning, Kezia and I were just dating and it was fine. We were living together and I was working as a waiter. I thought I wanted to be a writer. We ended up having a baby and we needed money. Kezia was doing freelance styling and because our daughter, Cayli, was being breastfed, I would bring the baby to Kezia and stay on the set. So, I watched her do the shooting and I began to learn from that. One day she wasn't available for a job and since we needed the money, she said, "you go do it." So, I just went out and did it. I got thrown into it and that was that.
Right around this time; I believe it was during l976, Kezia started working with Bruce Weber for Esquire and Bruce hired me for jobs. He used me as a model for Esquire for college kids and then he told Kezia I was really good. He hired me for more jobs, but I wasn't really styling. I was simply helping to put the clothes together because I was with Kezia who was now working for Esquire. To me, I thought I was just helping out. I didn't get that these were real jobs on real magazines. And, that's how it all started. Kezia threw me into doing what I was doing just to make money. But, I really liked this crazy, new world and I thought it was so much fun. By now, I was 24. I was working all of the time and loving every minute of it.
LOL: So did Kezia Keeble discover Bruce Weber?
PC: He was already working, I think she was one of his early champions. She so loved working with him and thought he was so brilliant that every time she got a job, she would do it with Bruce. She always wanted to use him. And, when he got a job, he'd use her. So, I think their lives sort of inter-mixed. Everyone assumed that because Kezia was more established, she was the one who actually discovered Bruce. But, probably it was Nan Busch who was responsible for Bruce. Or maybe Bruce is really responsible for Bruce.
LOL: How did Keeble, Cavaco & Duka get started?
PC: That's a long story. In 1977, Kezia and I formed a freelance styling company under the name Keeble, Cavaco. We just took any job that was given to us. Kezia worked freelance for American Vogue and thus, we also freelanced their menswear sections. I was like a market editor on these projects. When they needed men's clothes for a particular shoot, they'd tell me what was needed and I'd go out and find everything. I also worked with Bruce Weber for Per Lui, which was a young Italian version of GQ. I worked with him also on Lei magazine, which was like Italian Glamour. I worked with Esquire, too.
Everything Kezia and I did was for the company and we did this successfully for many years. Then, in l984, Kezia and I divorced. Kezia re-married in 1985 to John Duka, who was a well-known journalist. Since we were all friends, we just came up with the idea to do a company together. We decided to focus on fashion advertising and Keeble, Cavaco & Duka was born in 1985.
LOL: Who were your clients?
PC: Bergdorf-Goodman was our very first client. We did their ads with either Steven Meisel as the photographer or Motts Gustafson as the illustrator. John did a gossip column to go along with the visuals and it was a really great campaign. Then, we did Trump Towers, which was illustrated by Tim Schaeffer. It was all about these giant, giant cartoons and they were absolutely beautiful. Then, John would go and do some crazy thing about people talking. The result was something totally different. Through the years, we had many, many clients. We had Versace and people like that.
LOL: Some say that Keeble, Cavaco & Duka is the frontrunner to the modern fashion PR agency. Do you agree? How did Keeble, Cavaco & Duka cross over into public relations?
PC: I suppose that because we were probably the first ones to incorporate fashion styling, advertising and then public relations into one agency, we might be looked at that way. But, for us, the development of a full-service PR agency was a long process and something that evolved from one specialty to another to yet another We knew we were doing the right thing for our clients via our advertising campaigns, but we also knew that if we lost a client, we'd lose our shirts.
LOL: What changes do you think have taken place in fashion PR over the past ten years?
PC: I do think KCD is as exacting today as it was when Kezia, John and I were running it. I think that PR firms in general have to be somewhat exacting because the world has become more and more commercial. So, yes, they'd have to be that exacting to keep with their industry and the changing face of their business. I think you see it and feel it when they're not; for example, like when you go to their shows. I'm speaking personally about that point because I'm only interfacing with the PR agencies now on that level or when I'm getting clothes in for a shoot.
LOL: Which PR firms do you believe are best positioned to take advantage of the internet and its capabilities?
PC: You're asking the wrong person. I just learned how to do e-mail two weeks ago.
LOL: Now that you're Allure's creative director whats your current relationship with KCD?
PC: I remain close and personal with the owners, Julie Mannion and Ed Filipowski. Julie worked with me when she was 21 and just out of college. Ed came to me when he was in his early 20s. So, you know they both spent a long time with me although I think Kezia was much more like Eds and Julies mentor than I was. We worked closely together and we went through two deaths together, so when you do all of that together - youre trying to run a company and you have two people who are an integral part of your personal and professional life dying - you just bond. And, theres a child involved, too. Julie and Ed watched Cayli grow up; Julies known my daughter since she was 3 years old. So, youre very, very close to each other. Basically, theyre like my extended family. So, because all of us had been on the other side as editors and we knew we were probably the first of our kind to be on that side, we thought that we had the inside track when it came to public relations. We knew all of the editors as contemporaries. We saw ourselves as the younger, newer type of public relations firm; a first of its kind, if you will. Plus, since we'd already been editors, we knew how editors just didn't want or didn't have the time to get inundated with a lot of junk. So, we took all of that into consideration and carefully edited out what wasn't needed and gave the editors just what they wanted in a quick, innovative format. Plus, we produced shows, as well, even when we were doing our styling. We produced shows for designers like Nicole Miller, Bern Conrad, Willie Smith for Williewear and Adrienne Vittadini. That was the very beginning. Then, we did shows for Chanel in America. We did a couture show for Vogue. We did lots of shows for lots of designers each and every season.
LOL: Who was the driving force behind the agency?
PC: Kezia, absolutely. She was so great because she was so inspired. It amazed me that someone could stay that inspired 24 hours a day. You could give her anything and she would just whip it up into some kind of real inspiration. She wasn't difficult; she was just extremely exacting. I think because she was a woman and a woman who sat at the top of a well-recognized company over 10 years ago, a lot of people thought they would be able to take advantage of her. Well, that didn't happen. She might have had a reputation for being difficult or tough because she simply wanted everything to be perfect. So, if you were not perfect, she just made things perfect. Now, I may be exacting, but I'm the first to admit that I'm not quite as driven in the same way that Kezia was. And, because she was trained by Mrs. Vreeland, she was used to a certain sort of caliber of work that's expected of you. I think Kezia expected that of the people who worked for her and also of the people she worked for. She expected them to do great work and she wouldn't settle for any less.
LOL: Describe your, Kezia's and John's role.
PC: I worked on all of the shows. If there were any shootings to be done, I did them. I didn't do pitch work, but I'd come in if there was a problem. I was the calmest one there and the clients knew that they could vent on me. John was the writer, but he also did a lot of client pitching. Kezia's role was the mastermind. A client would come to her and we'd say that we couldn't take them; their clothes are hideous; they're just not good. Kezia would say, "we'll take them and we'll make them good." Everything and anything was a challenge for her.
LOL: Do you still love her?
PC: I still love her and not only because she's the mother of my child. She was the most incredible woman and she played a major part in shaping my life.
LOL: What part of the PR business did you like the most?
PC: I liked working on the shows and I liked the many interesting people I met over the years.
LOL: What part of the PR business did you like the least?
PC: I hated most of it. I never liked soliciting people; it was always hard for me to call someone and tell them that they absolutely had to see a certain line. Some of the clients had unrealistic demands for what they wanted for their company. That for me was always the hardest thing to deal with. For example, a client not knowing who they really were with great expectations for what they should be. I always thought that perhaps they should just be what they were and allow us to do our job; to take that concept and promote it without changing or altering it. Obviously, not every client is Versace; Versace is Versace and that's brilliant; that's fine. But, we had other, smaller clients who wanted to be Chanel; Karl Lagerfeld they're not. You know, that's a certain category and not everyone is that or can be that. You have to celebrate who you are and we simply tried to do that with our clients.
But, when a client is paying a great deal of money, they want to see a lot of results. You know, you can only do your best. So, I don't really blame them and their unrealistic expectations. PR can only do so much; the client has to have a product that's worthy of it in the long run. But, maybe that's not really true in the broader sense. I guess the whole concept was just something I couldn't grasp and I guess I wasn't big enough to grasp it. I still don't grasp it today and that's why I wasn't suited for public relations I understand the value of PR; I'm just not the person to implement it.
LOL: When and why did you leave Keeble, Cavaco & Duka?
PC: I left in 1991. Both Kezia and John had passed away by this time and I decided it was time to move on; to use my creativity in another area. I had a take-over arrangement with Julie Mannion and Ed Filipowski, who had been a significant part of the agency for several years, so I knew the business was going to go forward with knowledgeable people at the helm. When I left, they operated the business as partners under the Keeble, Cavaco & Dukaname. In l994, the agency became known as KCD and functions under that banner today.
LOL: How did you make the transition from Keeble, Cavaco & Duka to your position as a fashion director at Harper's Bazaar?
PC: Liz Tilberis came to the magazine from British Vogue and I went to her and said, I want to be your fashion director. I'd known Liz for many years. Fabien Baron, who was also a friend of mine, was going to Harper's Bazaar. He said, "don't you want to go? It would be great." I said, yes, and he said, "Liz is going to call you." Well, she never called me, so I went to see her. She said, "oh my god, I've just offered the job to other people." Soon after, those other people turned down the job and Liz called me and said, "will you come?" I said yes, right away. It was probably fate; everything is fate, after all, I think. So, in the end, Tonne Goodman and I were the fashion directors and that's the story.
LOL: Which PR firms do you admire today?
PC: Obviously, I still admire KCD. They're the best in the business now and I think they're great; I really do. I say this because I know them the best and I know about their integrity, both on a personal and professional level. For example, I think when you go to their shows, you really see that. It's effortless to get into a KCD show. You just get escorted right in. Perhaps I'm treated this way because it's my old company and they always recognize me standing there. But, I only hear good things about KCD from my peers in the industry. People tell me you can just toddle right into a KCD show; it's quick, it's easy and there's no front of house attitude going on. I also think Kevin Krier's great. Bureau Betak is great. Overall, I think there are a lot of great PR firms out there, but for me, of course, Keeble and KCD are my family. what's your current relationship with KCD?
PC: I remain close and personal with the owners, Julie Mannion and Ed Filipowski. Julie worked with me when she was 21 and just out of college. Ed came to me when he was in his early 20's. So, you know they both spent a long time with me although I think Kezia was much more like Ed's and Julie's mentor than I was. We worked closely together and we went through two deaths together, so when you do all of that together - you're trying to run a company and you have two people who are an integral part of your personal and professional life dying - you just bond. And, there's a child involved, too. Julie and Ed watched Cayli grow up; Julie's known my daughter since she was 3 years old. So, you're very, very close to each other. Basically, they're like my extended family.
LOL: Give us your thoughts on supermodels. How are they different today vs.when you started working with them years back?
PC:God, supermodels ... I loved supermodels then and I love them now. I think I love them because I've worked with them for 23 years and I've seen them come and go. But, I guess that's exactly what they're supposed to do. They work for a certain amount of time and then they go off to their next thing. I see models as my collaborators. I couldn't do my job without them. After all, they're virtually the most important thing, you know; it's the photographer and the model.
Contrasting the models of yesterday and today, however, I think there's much more money involved now. But, are the girls the same? Yes. They're still young women. They're still very young. They're still very beautiful. They still have long necks and long limbs. They're still very thin. Were they anorexic then and are they anorexic now? No, because you can see that they're basically healthy girls. Models are just genetically different than we are. They aren't your average people; they weren't then and they aren't now. And, I think that when people say that all models are anorexic, they're not really looking. You can tell if someone's anorexic; you can see it. You can look at these girls and you know that they're not anorexic. They're very young and young girls tend to be thin with fast metabolisms. Did they eat then and do they eat now? Yes, absolutely.And, I've always thought it was crazy for them to be picked on for their thinness. Do we pick on actresses for their thinness? Well, now we do. But, this is what models have always looked like and that's how they earn their money and become the big stars.
I also think we're addressing very different times when we think about supermodels like Dovima, Suzy Parker, Jean Shrimpton, Penelope Tree or Twiggy. We don't live in as elegant a world anymore. Are the girls of today as elegant as say a Dovima or a Suzy Parker? Yes, I think so. Are girls like Linda Evangelista, Christy Turlington, Kate Moss or Giselle as elegant? Absolutely. It's just a different time and a different world. Today's models represent the art and vision of the world we live in much the same way that Dovima represented the style and fashion of her time and that world.The body types are different and our expectations of beauty are different. You know, the more things change, the more they stay the same. So, I think that the models of today are just as elegant and just as beautiful and just as sophisticated, in their way, as the big models of years ago.
Paul discusses working on his first issue for Allure, celebrity fashion, Anna Wintour, Tom Ford, James Truman among others...