Mao PR Sues Heatherette
By Renata Espinosa
April 06, 2005 @ 11:09 PM - New York
As everyone in fashion knows, sometimes young designers bite the hand that feeds them. Last month, Heatherette unceremoniously decided to cut ties with Mao Public Relations, their publicity firm since the label's inception in 2001. In a meeting with Heatherette company president Elissa Bromer, Mao PR was told "their services were no longer needed," said Mauricio Padilha, president of Mao PR.
"We created Mao to help young designers," said Padilha of their New York-based PR firm, well known in the fashion community for their support and representation of emerging fashion designers like Richie Rich and Traver Rains, the design team behind Heatherette.
That a young designer, or design duo in this case, would cut ties with their publicist is not controversial in and of itself, though said Padilha, Richie Rich had always told Mao that he would never leave them.
Rather, the controversy lies in the fact that after four and a half years of working for Heatherette, producing eight runway shows and creating enormous buzz around the label in the process, Heatherette is refusing to pay Mao PR back for their services, now that they seemingly have the means. Heatherette broke ties with Mao soon after the company was purchased for $6 million by the Weisfeld Group, owned by Norman and Bruce Weisfeld. The Weisfeld Group also owns clothing lines Coogi and Fubu.
"We had a contract with Heatherette from day one to do their PR for a fee - when they first started being late with their payments we made an agreement that as soon as they got their funding that they would pay us in full," said Padilha. "The Weisfeld/Heatherette deal has been in the works for a very long time," he added. "We continued doing the press because we were promised we would be paid in full....We invoiced them every step of the way and everytime we would speak to Richie he kept telling us we would be getting paid as soon as the deal went through."
Continued Padilha, "Clients come and go - but for somebody to have been helped all along and are up with a $6 million contract and don't want to pay us a penny?"
Now, Mao PR is suing Heatherette, Traver Rains, Richie Rich and the Weisfeld Group for $250,000 as well as defamation of character related to statements made to the press by Heatherette's new in-house publicist Aimee Phillips, who is also named in the suit. In the lawsuit, Mao PR makes the claim that the Weisfeld Group bought Heatherette based on press - not based on revenue, since there wasn't much to speak of - press that Mao PR helped them get.
Mao PR and Mauricio Padilha vs. Heatherette
According to the lawsuit filed by Mao PR and Mauricio Padilha, "The defendant Aimee Phillips made willfully false statements concerning [Mao PR and Padilha] which appeared in the New York Observer dated March 30, 2005."
Phillips told the Observer, "'You might say the great story is that important editors were standing out in the freezing cold during Fashion Week because Mao doesn't know how to put on a show. We didn't make a formal announcement because we didn't want any bad blood here. But I knew Mauricio was gonna be a brat about this.'"
Phillips was responding to a statement Padilha made when asked by the Observer about the recent parting of ways between Mao and Heatherette and whether there was a story behind it. Padilha told the Observer, "Yes, but for the time being, I have no comment."
Now Padilha wants to clarify certain points.
"Aimee said, ˜Editors were left out in the cold,' but no one was freezing that night," said Padilha, who has produced 158 fashion shows, of the February 4th show which was scheduled to start at 9 p.m.
According to Padilha, at 9:35 p.m. they closed the inner doors of the venue and only latecomers who arrived between 9:35 p.m. and 9:48 p.m. were the people left out. However, even these Johnny and Janey come latelies could still watch the show inside the lobby's heated tent on televisions broadcasting the runway show live, and help themselves to the tent's open bar to boot. "Nobody was left out in the cold," said Padilha.
Furthermore, added Padilha, "It wasn't Mao who closed the doors. It was 7th on 6th security." 7th on 6th, owned by IMG, is, of course, the entity that puts on the biannual New York fashion week in Bryant Park.
Drew Jacoby, the venue manager at 7th on 6th and present at the Heatherette show that night said that he told Mao they had to close the doors and start the show because they were over capacity. "When we get to a capacity crowd, we have to close the doors for safety reasons. It's a fire hazard," said Jacoby.
Heatherette's Fame Game
But before there was a lawsuit, there was four and a half years of dedication to Heatherette's success and brand building. As show producers for Heatherette, Mao PR secured the all models and celebrities, including Paris Hilton and Anna Nicole Smith, for the runway shows. In nearly every instance, the models and celebrities walked for free, except Naomi Campbell who was paid to walk for Heatherette in September 2004, said Padilha. It was because of Mao's negotiations and relationships with the agencies that they were able to arrange this.
Right after Anna Nicole Smith famously lost weight, Mao PR arranged for Smith to appear in Heatherette's Fall 2004 collection showing at Mao Space in February 2004. This sparked a media sensation and was a turning point in terms of name recognition for Heatherette.
Smith appeared on four magazine covers because of that show - In Touch, Us Weekly, Star and the National Enquirer. "It brought the Heatherette name out to middle America," said Padilha. Shots of Smith walking the Heatherette runway later appeared in the model's TrimSpa television commercials, something Padilha said he also negotiated.
"We worked with Roger and Mauricio on many occasions and she had a good experience each time," said Howard Stern, Anna Nicole Smith's lawyer, on working with Mao PR.
However, said Padilha, Smith never received a dress that Heatherette had promised her as compensation. To make up for this, Padilha secured an evening gown from designer David Rodriguez, whom Mao wasn't representing at the time, and also bought her a Philip Treacy clutch bag of Marilyn Monroe's lips as painted by Warhol at his own expense.
What Goes Around, Comes Around
Mao PR's story about being ditched when it came time to be paid back is not an isolated one. There are other reports surfacing about bills left unpaid from Heatherette's early days. "People have been coming out of the woodwork," said Padilha.
As with Mao PR, it was an act of good faith that kept various collaborators such as Marlon Gobel and Sweden Unlimited working with Heatherette.
Marlon Gobel, who did graphic design work for Heatherette in 2004, said he is owed nearly $10,000. He told Fashion Wire Daily that he had invoiced them and called them about payment, but hasn't been able to get in touch with anyone at Heatherette.
"Heatherette hired me right as they were getting ready for the Fubu [Weisfeld Group] sale to do all the graphics before the launch, the hang tags," said Gobel.
Because they were used to doing one-of-a-kind pieces and "they didn't know how to use a computer," said Gobel, they needed basic t-shirt designs, color separations, hang tags and look books designed so that they were ready for mass production.
Gobel worked with them for 5 months, nearly every day. He said they always told him that "we'll pay you, we'll pay you," as soon as the Weisfeld Group deal was signed. "That was always the Heatherette M.O., ˜We don't have any money now, but when we do, we'll help you,'" said Gobel.
"When the Fubu deal [Weisfeld Group] got signed, suddenly there was this lack of communication. I contacted them through email, nothing," he said. Then, Gobel saw that Paris Hilton was wearing a t-shirt he had designed on the invitation for their Fall 2005. At this point, Gobel still had not been paid for his work, which he had started back in March 2004.
"You don't want to pay me," said a frustrated Gobel of Heatherette, "but you want to use me for the stuff I made."
Throughout Gobel's time working with Heatherette, he said there was always the knowledge of the impending deal with the Weisfeld Group.
"Fubu [Weisfeld Group] had purchased Heatherette without actually giving them their check," said Gobel. "There were no worries that the deal wasn't going to go through."
When Gobel made attempts to contact Heatherette, he would "get the runaround from both Aimee [Phillips] and Richie," he said. "There's this strange standoffishness - especially for a company that has relied so much on friends."
Sweden Unlimited, a design firm owned by twins Leja and Alex Kress, produced a look book for Heatherette in 2001 and also told Fashion Wire Daily that they never received payment.
"Richie dropped by our place to drop off the pictures they needed made into a look book and that was the last we saw of them, except the occasional fashion party. We only did that job for a third of what we usually charge because Mauricio is so nice and the twins are such old friends of Roger and Mauricio," said Richard Agerbeek on behalf of Sweden Unlimited.
Continued Agerbeek, "It seemed every few months Mauricio would remind us to print out a new invoice to send to Heatherette. I think after the third or fourth year we just gave up. We wrote off our $500 as a loss...a $500 donation to the aging club kid fund."
When asked to comment on why no one from Heatherette would return calls or get in touch with the people trying to contact them about the bills, Aimee Phillips told Fashion Wire Daily that she had "no comment across the board at the moment," but would have someone call back who could answer the question.
Phillips called back almost immediately and said, "Officially we can't comment on any pending litigation. That's our company policy."
Michael Gallagher of Gallagher Art and Fashion Gallery knows Mauricio and Roger Padilha, Richie Rich and Traver Rains well.
"I love all of them," said Gallagher about Heatherette and Mao PR "It's a tragedy. They get a $6 million check and they forget everyone they know."
Gallagher helped Heatherette out as well. "I sent Richie to Moscow," he said, for Russian Fashion Week. "I don't think I ever got a thank you."
Gallagher also lent them turn-of-the-century books about the circus as reference material, which he said were never returned. The concept for Heatherette's Fall 2004 show and collection was based on the circus.
"Mauricio and Mao really did make Richie," said Gallagher. "I love Richie, I've been to a lot of parties with them. But they would be nowhere without Mao. Bottom line is, it was the carnival aspect that created the whole thing."
But not all designers step on the little people who've helped them up the ladder once they make it big.
"Look at Marc Jacobs, when he got bought by LVMH, who did he bring in? Stephen Sprouse," added Gallagher. "Certain people on a high level have a slavish loyalty and others forget who got them there."
For Padilha, it is that lack of loyalty that hurts him.
"We worked our asses off for them - we really feel like we're being slighted," sighed Padilha. The past is what got them where they are today, at the end of the day."
Someone emailed this to me, so Not sure what rag its from. Interesting, no?