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The Man Behind the New Front Row


In the fashion world, there are a bunch of rules. Most people are scared to break them, sometimes for good reasons, other times not.

About a year and a half ago, Kerby Jean-Raymond, the creative director of the fashion line Pyer Moss, led subway-challenged fashion editors to Crown Heights in Brooklyn for a show called “American, Also.” A fantasy of black life free from the threat of racism and police brutality, it featured a 40-person gospel choir, artwork by Derrick Adams and references to “The Negro Motorist Green Book,” a pre-civil rights era travel guide.

For reasons that extended beyond wokeness, Mr. Jean-Raymond’s show was one of the most acclaimed of the season. Then he followed it up with a decision to toss out the fashion calendar, in favor of showing just once a year.

A select group of established designers had begun this move a few seasons before, but Mr. Jean-Raymond was arguably the first who made that decision just when he was poised for stardom.

Was he nuts? Some thought so.

Fashion insiders have a tendency to forget that the biggest designers usually rise by upending convention rather than upholding it. In that way, the naysayers are a little like veteran political pundits whose pontifications about electability don’t mention that our two most recent presidents made it to the White House by positioning themselves as disrupters of Washington tradition.

Nate Hinton, the founder of the Hinton Group, a two-year-old fashion P.R. firm, understood the logic behind Mr. Jean-Raymond’s move. Mr. Hinton is his publicist and, therefore, a chief enabler, a guy whose job undoubtedly includes a certain amount of implementing the client’s wishes.

Still, sucking up wasn’t principally what was going on when he helped Mr. Jean-Raymond arrive at the conclusion that the fashion calendar was a relic.

First, said Mr. Hinton, who is 39 and looks closer to 26, there was the cost of staging a show twice a year (usually $150,000 each time, at minimum). That made sense a decade ago, when having a fashion week slot was the only accepted way for a designer to build heat around a collection.

Back then, sites like Style.com ran pictures within a day or two — but hardly anyone saw them so the clothes weren’t old news when they hit store shelves, and fashion magazines, several months later.

Instagram changed that. Yet designers, egged on partly by the publicists who made money publicizing those shows, kept going broke trying to keep up.

“It makes no sense,” Mr. Hinton said during one of several interviews over the last week. “It cripples young designers.”

That is particularly true for his clients, many of whom are people of color in an industry that just five years ago had barely any brand-name black designers.

But now, Mr. Jean-Raymond’s approach to fashion week is spreading throughout the industry, along with an obvious question: What if Mr. Hinton, as one of fashion’s most promising young image makers, reaches the top tier of the fashion heap by helping to kill fashion week?

WHEN PEOPLE DISCUSS publicists — an admittedly small group — conversation usually centers on whether they lied on behalf of a client or said yes or no to a journalist’s request for an interview.

Fashion publicists operate differently.

At KCD, the industry’s most august firm — which was started in the early 1980s — the founders Paul Cavaco and Kezia Keeble used their previous work as fashion stylists as the building block for their company.

Its principals today are certainly capable of doing media strategy for designers clawing their way out of catastrophe (see: John Galliano), but they also produce scores of fashion shows (Marc Jacobs, Versace), manage brands’ social media (Balmain) and broker partnerships between mass retailers and luxury designers (see: Target and Missoni).

That makes them something like a fashion hybrid of a P.R. firm and a Hollywood agency. (Their all-black suits even match the ones favored by agents at CAA and William Morris.)

For many years, KCD’s chief competitor has been PR Consulting, whose founder, Pierre Rougier, is largely inseparable from Nicolas Ghesquière and Raf Simons, two erstwhile fashion darlings. Where friendliness was KCD’s corporate mandate, PR Consulting helped create an air of exclusivity for Mr. Ghesquière and Mr. Simons by dismissing those perceived as wannabes (or worse, middle market.)

Mr. Hinton worked for both firms, and his solo career seems like an attempt to meld the friendly demeanor of Ed Filipowski (his boss at KCD, who died in January) with the clubby synergy that exists between Mr. Rougier and the curated circle of designers he represents.

“That’s how Kerby and I relate to each other,” Mr. Hinton said. “It’s part of why I understand his vision and what he wants. We know the same people, we share friends, we hang out.”

BACK WHEN MR. HINTON entered the industry, there wasn’t just a dearth of black designers. There were few black behind-the-scenes people in positions of authority. “I don’t even know if I can think of one,” said Mr. Hinton, who has a level of candor, even chattiness, that for better and perhaps for worse, is uncharacteristic of publicists.

Mr. Hinton grew up in Norfolk, Va. His mother was an anesthesia technician, and his father wasn’t around, he said.

“There was never enough money,” Mr. Hinton said. “That’s part of what motivated me.”

At Booker T. Washington High School in Norfolk, he staged fashion shows in which students modeled borrowed street wear from Iceberg and Girbaud.

At Shaw University, a historically black college in Raleigh, N.C., he studied physics, but protons didn’t capture his attention quite like Tom Ford did.

In 2003, Mr. Hinton graduated with a degree in business administration. He moved to Washington, D.C., for a job at Federated, the department store conglomerate.

A year later, he moved into an apartment in Paterson, N.J., and commuted to New York City, where he was hired as the sample supervisor at Prada (that’s fashion-speak for running the company closet). From there, he moved into the brand’s public relations department.

In 2011, he was hired by Mr. Rougier at PR Consulting.

In 2012 he was fired by him after a dust-up whose central elements — operatics and pettiness — sit atop fashion’s periodic table.

The end came after the actress Emma Watson picked a dress for the MTV Movie & TV Awards. It was made by a little-known brand called Brood, whose account representative at PR Consulting was Mr. Hinton. “It was like my first V.I.P. moment,” he said.

On the day of the show, Mr. Hinton got what he described as a violent flu and failed to get the news release out before his trip to the emergency room. People magazine was among several outlets that published pictures of Ms. Watson without naming his client.

“I’m, like, slightly incapacitated,” Mr. Hinton said. “I can’t really respond to emails and texts. And so Pierre calls me, and he’s going off on me.”

Looking back, Mr. Hinton realizes it would have been smart to text Mr. Rougier and say he was in the hospital; that not informing him had a flaky millennial quality.

Still, Mr. Hinton said the final straw was the apology he didn’t deliver. “I was fired for my reaction to that call, which was just as saucy as his,” he said. (Mr. Rougier, asked about this, called Mr. Hinton “a great guy.”)

Soon after, Mr. Hinton was hired by KCD.

Two of the firm’s clients were Maxwell Osborne and Dao-Yi Chow, who, as the creative directors of Public School, were among a tiny group of well-known minority designers.

“Nate really got close to them and became part of their team and their circle, and I think that opened his mind to what he really wanted to do,” said Rachna Shah, a partner at KCD who served as his immediate supervisor.

In 2016, Mr. Hinton received a phone call from one of Mr. Rougier’s top aides. She informed him that Raf Simons was taking over Calvin Klein. Might Mr. Hinton come to work on the account?

Mr. Hinton said he would, seeing it as an opportunity “to sort of clear my record with Pierre, if you will.”

“Also,” he said, “it was Raf, and being able to order his clothes at a discount was great for me.” (Mr. Hinton was kidding. But also not.)

IN 2018, RUMORS began to spread that Mr. Simons’s days at Calvin Klein were numbered. When it became clear the prophecy was true, Mr. Hinton started plotting his next move.

Through Antoine Phillips (a vice president of brand and culture engagement at Gucci) and Laron Howard (a marketing manager at Burberry), Mr. Hinton met Mr. Jean-Raymond, who had recently held his much discussed Crown Heights show and was looking for a publicist.

“I went to all the big firms,” Mr. Jean-Raymond said in an interview at his Chelsea offices.

One told him they already had “one black designer” and didn’t need another, he said. Others proposed exorbitant monthly fees.

Having a person who was affordable, black and understood his message was the logical step, so he called Mr. Hinton.

For a few weeks, Mr. Hinton fretted about whether to start his own agency. Then Mr. Osborne and Mr. Chow of Public School called to say they were leaving KCD and wanted him to do their P.R. under the table. He replied that there was no need to work surreptitiously since he was about to start his agency.

Mr. Jean-Raymond gave Mr. Hinton and his five-person team desks in the Pyer Moss offices in Chelsea. According to Mr. Jean-Raymond, Mr. Hinton will also be getting equity in the company, though when and how much isn’t totally clear. “It’s in process,” Mr. Hinton said.

A number of clients Mr. Hinton later signed up failed to pay their bills; fees usually run about $7,000 a month. They parted ways with Mr. Hinton, and others joined up.

One is Sergio Hudson, a Gianni Versace-obsessed African-American designer who made the pantsuit Demi Lovato wore to sing the national anthem at the Super Bowl. Another is Claudia Li, a New Zealander of Chinese descent whose clothes have a Comme des Garçons on the Q Train to Fort Greene vibe.Last week, she and Mr. Hinton stood in a conference room at her sunny garment district office preparing the seating chart for her Feb. 8 show.

Ms. Li, 31, wore a white hooded sweatshirt and a pleated yellow and blue skirt she designed. Mr. Hinton had on a black Aliétte hoodie, Acne Jeans (“my faves”) and Rick Owens sneakers that look like Converse All Stars and sell for about 30 times the price.

While Mr. Hinton moved around color-coded Post-its, Ms. Li talked about how lucky she was to work with him.

For one, she said, her previous P.R. personcost too much. For another, Mr. Hinton “recognized the establishment without being enslaved by it.”

Mr. Hinton chimed in about the importance of speaking directly to consumers and building community around brands. “But we’re not trying to say, ‘Screw everyone,’” he said. “We’d love to have Anna Wintour at her show.”

“I’d literally faint,” Ms. Li said.

I asked Mr. Hinton if he was in a position to call Ms. Wintour and plead Ms. Li’s case.

“I can call her,” he said. “Would she answer the phone? Hell, no!”

Of course, Mr. Hinton encountered Ms. Wintour when he worked the red carpet at the Met Gala for KCD. And he sort of knew her before that.

“At Prada, I was responsible for delivering her clothing orders,” he said.

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