We recently got to spend some time with local Fashion Publicist, Leon Haasbroek, to find out a bit more about what makes him tick. Leon is well known in fashion and media circles for his bold moves, dedication to the industry and last but not least his trademark all black clothing ensembles.
Leon has worked with some of the biggest names in the business and is the owner of LJHPR, a boutique PR and Communications agency that focuses on media relations and strategic linking within the Fashion Industry in Africa.
How did you wind up in Fashion PR specifically, that’s quite a niche field, right?
Since I can remember, I have loved fashion, I believe that the industry chose me, rather than me choose it. In 2009 I started working for, then one of the premiere Model Agency’s in South Africa, Star Model Management. I worked my way up the ladder and later became the Head Booking Agent for the agency, who today is known as BOSS Models Johannesburg.
I took a keen interest in certain aspects of the industry like Fashion Week, editorial sittings and the photographic elements, it excited me. The parties, the models, the designers….. I was in heaven. During my time at the agency, I met a Celebrity Publicist/Model Scout Leon Cloete, we quickly became friends and I learned that his industry (Public Relations) was more interesting than what I thought it was.
I later left BOSS Models to form my own PR Firm with Mr. Cloete, where he focused on Celebrity PR and I focused on Consumer PR/ Fashion PR. Yes, Fashion PR is a super niche market, but with the extensive knowledge I gained through consistent networking and friendships with key stakeholders in the industry, I was able to combine my booking experience and my network into one, and that led me to Fashion PR.
What did you study, and what where your favourite aspects of your studies?
In 2003 I starting a bridging course into Communication Sciences, because my mom told me I needed to go into PR, but I was dead set against it (look at me today, ma you were right!). I wanted to study fashion. In 2005 (after placing in the top 10 Avant Garde section of the Vodacom Durban July – without any real knowledge of fashion) I started my studies at The School of Fashion in Pietermaritzburg.
Half way through the year, I reassessed my interest in manufacturing garments and realised (with a combination of hating my teacher and hating key elements of design) that I was not made for this. I did not return for year two and three.
You have worked with some pretty big local and international fashion brands – what has been a highlight for you?
I think my highlights include:
• JJ Schoeman’s Return to Fashion Week show (his AW16 collection) in 2015 – It was an emotional show for me as this was the first event I was solely responsible for. From the selection and taping of the shoes, selecting the right music to captivate the audience, which should influence their emotions about the collection, to the Hair & Make-up. Following a brief that was given by client to execute and executing it with the constraints of sharing the show with another designer. So I needed to take their expectations on hair and make-up into consideration as there was no time to change this between the two collections. Learning how to seat guests and where not to put people (because some guests did not like others, and did not want to be seated close to each other). These hurdles, taught me how to work under pressure and how to grow a VERY thick skin – very quickly.
• Definitely Men’s Health Menswear Collection this year (2018) for my client Soviet Denim. We incorporated our Brand Ambassador NaakMuisQ, into the show (which was never done before) and it paid off, guests were besides themselves excited….. Watching all those Victoria Secret Show’s and studying the way they did things, really paid off for me and my client
• I have to say another highlight, is meeting incredible people, like Jennifer Rush & Baria Alamuddin. Fashion has a way of linking people, like no other industry does. BUT you need to want it, or you end up just being another mediocre person, who did not do anything significant with the opportunity fashion can give you.
What has been one of the biggest challenges that you have faced in Fashion PR?
I think the lack of knowledge about the PR industry is still one thing I REALLY struggle with. Many people compare PR to Marketing and Advertising, but the deliverables are vastly different. Expectations are created out of knowledge from industries that support PR, and often lead to disappointments and then ending of relationships.
I really struggle with the expectation that PR is a quick fix, it’s NOT, it is a tool that takes months, or even years to nurture relationships with key media and influencers. PR is a process in which one, changes consumer habits, by organically speaking about a specific product or service, through media and influencer relations. Within the Fashion industry specifically, I would say that there is a HUGE disconnect between how the South African industry communicates, as opposed to international standards. As a whole the industry has a very poor concept of communications, and this really makes it difficult for an already niched service to thrive.
It’s not all glitz and glam out there – what is one thing that may surprise people about the industry.
I would say the fact that the fashion industry is one of the world’s highest economic contributors. Over and above that, people don’t often see how Fashion is non-rewarding in appraisal and that it is very militant and super emotionless. You can’t just walk into fashion, you need to LIVE and BREATH Fashion, to make it in this industry.
What course would you recommend for a recent high-school leaver that may want to get in to this field?
This would be twofold, definitely a diploma in Fashion Media, and then something in the liners of communications. But to be truly honest with you, none of my studies prepared me as much as what booking did. The industry is not about how much you know, it is rather who you know, that can influence the outcome of the objective.
Your fave item of clothing in your closet right now, and why?
It’s not a clothing piece, but footwear – My Versace sandals & sneakers. I love clothing – but in my personal style, I have noticed that my accessories are the key elements that make for an interesting look. My favourite brand in the world is Versace, I even had the Medusa face tattooed on my lower arm.
What are the three wardrobe basics that you cannot live without?
• Black collared Shirts
• Black Trousers or an athleisure tracky pant
• Black Shoes
Correct – I do not own colour…….. black is an essential part of any fashion person’s closet. There is a science to it…….. Ask an events co-ordinator….. they will tell you.
Find out more about Leon and LJHPR here…