George Kolasa, a fashion industry insider who had senior communications and marketing roles at leading designer brands, died Tuesday after an intentionally public fight with cancer.
Kolasa, 57, had been diagnosed with Glioblastoma Multiforme, an aggressive form of brain cancer, in February 2022. He died at his home in East Hampton, New York. His death was revealed on his Instagram, where he had chronicled his 18-month battle with what is considered an incurable disease.
During his 30-year career in the industry, Kolasa was the consummate professional, prompt and exacting, in finessing marketing and public relations for brands including Burberry, Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, Karl Lagerfeld and Giorgio Armani. He was perennially cheerful, funny, and always impeccably dressed — naturally in the brand he was working for — with never a hair out of place or a wrinkle.
Established as Kolasa was in the industry, his true strength emanated not just from how he faced his illness head-on, but through the steadfastness in detailing his medical odyssey via social media and other public avenues. In fact, Kolasa was perhaps even more of a touchstone among cancer patients, survivors and their loved ones due to his openness about battling the rare disease. He also strived to help non-cancer patients with whatever struggles they might have — be it relationship issues or mental health wellness.
“I love hearing that I lift someone up and give them strength,” he told Vogue last year.
His husband Justin Tarquinio could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
During a “Cancer Straight Talk” podcast for Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, Kolasa described his reaction to the doctor when told of his disease, “’God’s will not mine be done. I have to believe that this is God’s will.’ And I’m on this new journey. And it’s been from that moment that I’ve stayed in this place in my head. And I’ve not cried about it. I’ve not been, ‘Why me?’ I haven’t blamed anyone. It just is what it is.”
Kolasa, whose father had died days before he faced his own health crisis, also detailed the importance of positivity in the podcast, which remains accessible. “We all have to ask ourselves, ‘How do I want my story to play out? Who do I want to be going through this with?’ And I wanted to go through it with grace and with dignity and acceptance and be inspiring to other people, and to use this as a way to help other people.”
Taking such a public role, however, was not instinctive for Kolasa, who refrained from putting himself front-and-center professionally. “My job was to communicate on behalf of a brand or a designer. That was my main purpose,” he said in the Vogue interview.
Upfront about how “cancer changes everything,” Kolosa also described how although Memorial Sloan Kettering surgeons were able to remove a grapefruit-sized tumor, there were two smaller inoperable ones that resulted in six weeks of nonstop chemotherapy and radiation. Last year his openess caught the attention of hospital officials, who enlisted him to take over MSK’s account during “Brain Cancer Awareness Month.” Despite his physical ailments, he teamed up with Equinox for “Cycle for Survival,” an indoor team cycling movement that supports fighting rare cancers through research and clinical studies at MSK.
By his own account, connecting with others on Instagram about their situations was “extremely rewarding,” he said, “That’s what gives me purpose today in life. How do we become good role models to people in general? Not just for this disease, but for any adversity that comes up? What tools do you have in your toolbox to help you get through? I’m OK and I’m here, and I might not be one day, but I’m not afraid of that. I’m really not afraid.”
In addition to his husband and a brother, Kolasa’s others survivors were not immediately known.
Editor’s Note: This article is in development and will be updated.