How a woman rewrites the rulebook of fashion public relations in Hollywood
Public relations is one of the most elusive yet impactful areas of communication. Publicist Ivy Lee, the man notoriously responsible for the legacy of the Rockefeller family, noted at the end of his career: “I’ve never been able to come up with a satisfying phrase to describe what I do.” More than a century later, this idea continues to resonate with many professionals. While it can be hard to explain what PR does, it’s impossible to thrive in today’s market without it. Nowhere is this more evident than in fashion, an industry built on the Image. As the audience has changed in the seismic demographics, relationships have changed with the advent of social media. Then the global pandemic turned everything upside down. Gone are the days of champagne evenings. Advertising today is data driven and ROI. On a recent business trip to Los Angeles, I heard a name pop up whenever conversations revolved around celebrity engagement with emerging designers. Auntie. Can someone call Tata? You should call Tata! It turns out that Tata Kartvelishvili is the founder of TATA LA, a showroom and a public relations agency serviced by a high level clientele in the worlds of entertainment and design. When I found out that she had started her business just five years ago, we had to connect in depth for my ongoing series of interviews with public relations mavericks braving new physical, digital frontiers. and hybrids from the Middle East to Latinx. diaspora and beyond. How to make the link between rising Hollywood stars and emerging fashion talents, given that these two spaces are very saturated and extremely competitive? Here’s our conversation on the state of the PR industry, what it takes to do it, stay relevant, and thrive.
Let’s start with the basic principle. In a world of direct access to everyone, why are public relations services always in demand?
Social media and public relations go hand in hand. The mode of communication may be constantly changing, but I think the extensive networking that we do cannot be done by a brand internally, especially if we are talking about aspiring designers. With social networks, you strength get access to the right people, but there’s no guarantee that they’ll get back to you to begin with or that a connection would be meaningful. You strength go viral once, but you can’t rely on social media as your brand’s main PR source. It’s about developing strong relationships and building a trustworthy reputation. Having the right agency dedicating their resources on your behalf is what brings lasting success.
Does celebrity PR “still work” in a cultural space where the power of the stars is constantly diluted?
Being in Hollywood, I don’t agree that the power of the stars is watered down now. Real celebrity has a certain kind of power that has always been that way. The big change is that bloggers, vloggers, tiktokers and other social media influencers are given a space to become powerful in their own right, with their own reach. If anything, the power of the stars is increasing! This is good news for PR because there are more clients to work with.
What are the pros and cons of engaging with a superstar or micro-influencer?
Micro-influencers can be beneficial for a specific niche. On some level, there are “influencers” who harass the brands themselves to send articles for free for a post. Brands and influencers need to know each other before they collaborate. For many brands, this can be a waste of time. Access to established actors, musical artists and athletes as well as well-known fashion influencers are some of the ways in which PR can help build brand awareness and grow the business of your client.
But does brand awareness always translate into sales in the hypersaturated social media space?
When the biggest celebrities wear designer clothes or accessories, brand awareness increases at once. Brand awareness is the key to selling, a necessary part. However, for the ROI to be successful, the primary responsibility lies with the brand. Do they have these items in stock or how quickly can they produce them? How smooth is their ecommerce functionality? What other retail platforms are they sold on? How effectively will they manage their marketing after celebrity placement? Everything counts!
Is this why a combination of showroom and PR agency is becoming an industry standard?
Yes maybe. I believe you can get better results when they are together. I’m going to give you an example. During the pandemic, mandatory lockdowns forced us to stop working in sales. It was terrible for all parties involved in the United States and abroad. However, we were successful in creating a new PR service strategy that enabled our brands to receive placements throughout the pandemic. In this way, we were able to not only support our designers and clients, but even expand the agency over the past year and a half. I am now working on adding Press and WholeSale departments. The results of such an operation help brands grow in a more organic way. Basically, the more services a business can offer to its customers, the more impact they can have.
How did you personally become “in fashion”?
I went to Paris for the first time at the age of 10 and fell in love with haute couture. In the 1990s, in my home country of Georgia, there weren’t any nice boutiques or cool clothes readily available. I was looking Fashion television all the time, completely obsessed with fashion. In my teens I started modeling which helped me get to know the industry a bit more from the inside out. After moving to LA, I started creating pop-up stores with talented designers. At the beginning, I was working on the PR part for both brands and events and I realized that I was very passionate about it. I launched my e-commerce site and in 2018, the Public relations agency. I have found what I like. I do it 24/7 now.
What was your big PR fashion break?
My big break from fashion PR came when I started working with Kendall Jenner’s stylist Marni Senofonte and his team. I’ve had several celebrity A-list placements before, but after Kendall started wearing my designers, that changed.
Why did you choose LA for your business and not New York, capital of traditional fashion?
We’re in Hollywood with its large celebrity population nearby and major events always happening around LA. So many music videos and editorial shoots are filmed here. Most of the celebrity stylists are here. We start working on projects maybe a week or a few days in advance, but we may also receive an urgent last minute request. Being here gives us an advantage.
Among the global brands that you represent, you have some of my favorite Georgian designers. I covered Tbilisi Fashion Week widely. From your experience, what is it that makes Georgian fashion so popular in the US and around the world right now?
Georgian designs always look unique. It’s a special touch that only Georgians have, and it resonates more and more now. Five years ago, selling collections was difficult. Stylists and die-hard fashionistas found the details and silhouettes interesting, but celebrities or repeat customers felt it was too different than they were used to. You could say it was a slow process of mutual education. I am very proud to have contributed to this change of attitude by constantly presenting brands to more and more customers. People became familiar with the brands and developed an appreciation for the style. Brands have also grown in their understanding of the international market and refined their pieces to be more attractive while still having something Georgian that gives them a unique identity.
How does business acumen relate to magic or luck to succeed in a demanding industry?
To be honest, I’m not a big fan of magic. I am a super realistic person but very optimistic. I believe that hard work, a willingness to learn more, and being passionate about the right company for you will bring you success in any industry. Savvy is useful for knowing when the right time is to implement which steps. I would say luck would always be nice, but it really depends on how much hard work you’re willing to put into your dreams.