"Introducing an emerging designer creating captivating leather fashions."
IKEMEN #28: CJ Swanton & Mariko Derpa
IKEMEN (ē´k´mɛn): Japanese Slang
"REALLY, REALLY, RIDICULOUSLY GOOD LOOKING PEOPLE"
Name: CJ SWANTON AND MARIKO DERPA
Occupation: FOUNDER AND OWNER OF OMEN PR/DIRECTOR OF PRESS
1. Where are you from?
CJ: Originally from Vancouver, Canada, but have considered myself a New Yorker for years now.
Mariko: Germany but I'm half Japanese, half German.
2. How long have you been in NYC?
CJ: This time around it's been six years, but I lived here previously as well.
Mariko: 13 years. I moved here from Milan where I lived for 13 years as well.
3. What was it like when you first came to New York?
CJ: Exciting and intimidating all at the same time.
Mariko: Overwhelming and frightening. I couldn't deal with the masses of people and the anonymousness of the city.
4. How did you get started working in fashion?
CJ: I originally worked in non-profit PR but discovered early on that I needed something more creative. I started off interning with a fashion company in Vancouver and soon after I moved to New York for the first time and started interning at MAO PR. The rest is history.
Mariko: I started working back in Milan in the early 90's with a great high-end fashion PR agency at that time called "Soncini & Ginepro" which represented Comme des Garcons and Martin Margiela, to mention only a few. I got hired as I speak fluently Japanese and they needed a Japanese mother tongue person for their press office for Rei Kawakubo. Next thing I knew, three months later, I was in Paris, at my first runway show for her at the Louvre with all the top models of that time, Linda, Christy, Naomi, Kristen McMenamy, etc. During that same time, I met Martin Margiela and his shows in abandoned garages in the outskirts of Paris were just so incredible. During those years, you felt the "effervescence of fashion", how I call it.
5. What are some of your duties as Director of Press at Omen PR?
Mariko: I oversee all of the press activity at OMEN. From pitching stories to liaising our relationships with stylists and editors, my goal is to make sure that our clients are being portrayed with a sense of integrity and in the best light possible. CJ and I work very closely together and our strengths as publicists and human beings complement each other in a very dynamic way considering the fact that we come from vastly different backgrounds.
6. What are some of your duties as owner of Omen?
CJ: While wearing many hats, my focus is primarily dealing directly with our clients to ensure that they are giving us what we need and vice versa. With a strong passion for production, I handle all of the work that we do during fashion week and also produce all of the events that we do as an agency. I also obviously look after all of the boring and tedious things like paying bills, making sure the printer has ink and changing light bulbs.
7. Why is Omen different than other PR agencies in the city?
CJ: I started the agency because I was disgusted by the lack of humanity within the fashion industry. I witnessed enormous egos and very toxic behavior working at other agencies and realized that fashion PR didn't need to be a cliche and that it could be done treating people with respect and a sense of dignity. Our company motto is "don't be a douche bag," we want to surround ourselves with people we believe in and those who understand that fashion isn't saving lives. In addition we tend to be very involved in our designers' process and use a more holistic way of managing and mentoring the brands that we work with.
Mariko: It "takes the risk". Our goal is to promote and help emerging designers who we believe have the potential to be the future stars of fashion. In an industry that is dictated by ad dollars, we have to fight even harder for each credit and sound bite our clients receive.
8. What are some of the brands you work with? Any new comers?
CJ: Some of our clients include UK sneaker giant Gola, Swedish knitwear designer Lars Andersson, cult fragrance house CB I Hate Perfume and women's ready-to-wear rising star Harare. We try to have a very cohesive vibe with all of the brands we work with whether they come from the worlds of fashion or beauty. We also represent Byronesque.com, the coolest vintage e-com site out there.
Mariko: Our new comers of this season are Haze Collection, an incredible sunglass brand which has already caught the eye of fashion darlings Rihanna and Alicia Keys. Black'd is a very chic women's ready-to-wear brand designed by Dejan Despotovic. We also represent another Swedish designer, Maria Hedmark and her women's RTW collection Linie.
9. What is the most challenging aspect of your job?
CJ: To circle back to what Mariko mentioned earlier, we are always battling for airspace with all of the mega luxury brands who dominate editorial content because they are fueled by multimillion dollar budgets. Every success we've had has been achieved through hard work and determination.
Mariko: To be able to catch editors' attentions in order to create awareness for our clients.
10. What gets you most excited about your job?
CJ: Seeing Mariko's beautiful face each morning... Also, I am incredibly inspired by the creativity of our clients and I love seeing them succeed.
Mariko: I feel exactly the same as CJ. The beauty of growing together motivates me every day.
11. Could you describe a typical day of your life?
CJ: Wake up. Smoke a cigarette. Take my dogs outside. Grab an ice coffee. Head to the office. Work along, occasionally challenging, but always fulfilling day at the showroom with my talented team. Smoke a cigarette. Have a cocktail. Hang out at my home with the dogs and my fiancé'. Have some dinner. Watch random shit on Netflix. Go to bed and start it all over again the next day.
Mariko: I am an early riser and always wake up at the crack of dawn, making my way to the gym. I love to start my day after a proper work out. I consider it a luxury to be able to do that. Also the fact that I can walk to the office every morning is a huge benefit. My days at the office vary but there is never a dull moment. After work, I always look forward to go home and see my adorable cat but sometimes end up having a glass of wine with a friend or editor somewhere downtown.
12. What are some of your interests outside of work?
CJ: I'm always obsessing over my two Great Danes and they pretty much run my life. I've always been incredibly interested in music and I'm a die-hard bibliophile. Cooking is also therapeutic and my fiancé' and I love to entertain and play host. I've been collecting art since my early 20's and its' always fun to head out on the weekend to Chelsea Flea to try and find the next new addition.
Mariko: I love photography, movies, music and art. Books, too! I am a big lover of good food as well. I generally really enjoy studying and learning new things so anything catching my attention. I love being outdoors, too. Breathing fresh air and seeing the sky.
WRITTEN & INTERVIEW BY: SUSAN SCHELL
PHOTOGRAPHY: COLIN HUGHES