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Features

FASHION VISIONARY

How FERN MALLIS Revolutionized the Fashion Industry

By Eden Herbstman

April 2012

September and February have come to mark the start of a new fashion season. The fashion heavyweights flock to New York for a week of shows, presentations, parties, and an overall celebration of the industry. The  gift of what is known today as “fashion week” was given to us by none other than Fern Mallis, a name synonymous with the industry, and the powerhouse behind its innovation. But more importantly, on a global level Fern formed American fashion into the recognizable and respected branch of culture it is today.

Her resumé is one that any aspiring fashion-follower would kill for, but one rightly deserved for her hard work and love of the industry. In 1993, as Executive Director of the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA), she centralized fashion week at the iconic Bryant Park tents, where it became the spotlight for American designers and a major pop culture event. Until Fern, fashion week was not the beautifully chaotic-yet-organized week of unified designer shows.  She served as a consultant for the fashion and interior design industries and worked as Vice President Of Marketing and Communications for the International Design Center, New York (IDCNY), and of course held the coveted role of Senior Vice President at IMG. The bittersweet moment when the tents moved from Bryant Park to Lincoln Center spoke to the fast pace of the industry itself, where change is inevitable and must be embraced. Nonetheless, this change didn’t stop Fern from moving on to bigger and better things.

After parting with IMG, Fern became president of her own leading international fashion and design consultancy firm, Fern Mallis LLC.  Taking a break from working with designers, Fern has delved into the world of jewlery design, where her accesories line, Fern Finds, is inspired by her international travels and sold through QVC. Bringing fashion front and center, she leads a Q and A series at the 92nd  street Y featuring icons like Donna Karan and Calvin Klein, as well as a radio show on Sirius XM called, “Fashion Insiders with Fern Mallis,” where she sits down with important figures in the industry, including designers, photographers, and the top editors. Whatever her future endeavors bring, Fern will continue to break ground in the fashion world with her innovative passion and vision.

I spoke with fashion visionary Fern Mallis just as she was about to receive a well-deserved lifetime achievement award from Pratt Institute.

Eden Herbstman:  First and foremost, you’re credited as the creator of fashion week. How do you feel about being given this title?

Fern Mallis: It is not that I have been given a “title”, nor is it an  honorary acknowledgment, so it is difficult to comment on this as your questions is posed. The  facts are quite clear, and in 1991, when I became the executive director of the CFDA, all the planets came together and seemed to be aligned.  Organizing the first ever unified show for American designers in tents in Bryant Park was not only a pivotal moment in my career, but it was a game-changer for the entire fashion industry.  I can say that I am extremely proud of this accomplishment. It’s not about being given a title.

EH: The accident in 1991 at Michael Kors’ loft show was the catalyst for the move to the tents. Post-debacle, what was the process like in creating fashion week?

FM: The process was very focused and deliberate. As director of a membership organization, we had many meetings, discussed the  concept with the members (all of whom were designers), and ultimately there was a fairly comprehensive endorsement to proceed with the concept.  It became a priority focus of my job to find appropriate space which could accommodate multiple fashion shows. As a short-term experiment, we made a deal with what was then known as Macklowe Hotel  (now the Millennium on West 44th) and we were able to get a consensus from approximately 10 to 15 designers to show their work in various spaces that were carved out in the hotel and the adjacent Hudson Theater. When this group effort showed promise we took it to the next level. Proposals and meetings were held with Mayor Dinkins, and ultimately Bryant Park was the logical place to set up our tents,  as it was the “backyard”  of the garment district.  Bryant Park was also under renovation and construction at the time. We started by using the two plaza areas surrounding the lawn and the New York Public Library’s Celeste Bartos Forum.  We eventually got permission from Mayor Giuliani to use the lawn, which significantly changed and enhanced the layout and effectiveness of the venues. But at the beginning, after the Macklowe, the CFDA board  endorsed my trip to see how the events were structured  in Paris and Milan. I came back with further knowledge and absolute belief in the necessity of getting this initiative organized  for the American designers, and Seventh 6th was born. All of this history can be read about online, or by watching the documentary The Tents, available on-demand. It’s also chronicled in Patrick’s book INTENTS.

EH: You’ve accomplished so much in the industry, from  IMG to CFDA, and now you have your own consulting firm. What would you say is your mantra for being successful in fashion?

FM: I arrived at CFDA in 1991 after an already successful career of close to twenty years in fashion, interior design, architecture, marketing, PR, event planning, and so forth. After ten years at the  CFDA and almost ten more at IMG, I have decided to start my own consulting business. Throughout all of this I’ve tried to ” be nice,” which has become a sort of mantra in my career. I’ve always tried to work with people I respect and admire. I also believe you have to love what you’re doing, or else it’s impossible to do any job every day. Homework doesn’t stop when you get out of school; one needs to continue to read, look, see things, and absorb everything in  the universe. I also believe it’s important to always give back. These are some of my “tree top”  tips for  success. Stay tuned for more in my future book!

EH: What has been the most rewarding moment in your career?

FM: There are many, thankfully! But having created  NY Fashion Week  takes the cake! It is an initiative now that grew beyond anyone’s imagination, and I am extremely proud of the role I played in this.

EH: Your jewelry collection is inspired by your travels around the world? Why did you choose jewelry to represent your admiration for travel and culture?

FM: I’ve collected accessories my entire life, and I have an impressive assortment that I have acquired over many, many years of traveling. My accessories and the way I combine them always elicit comments and queries, so it seemed natural to explore and start a collection in this area.  I believe jewelry  has a universal appeal and that women around the world love accessories, and my goal was to translate pieces I found in India to make them both relevant here and affordable. My FERN FINDS  are currently available on QVC.com. I’m very proud of how they turned out, and they come in divine Indian silk pouches and beautiful boxes.

EH: What are your upcoming projects?

FM: “Fashion Icons with Fern Mallis,”  a one-on-one interview series at New York’s 92 Y . I’ve already interviewed Norma Kamali, Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger. Next up is Tom Ford on  May 8th and Michael Kors on June 6th. I also have a radio series called “Fashion Insiders with Fern Mallis,”  on Sirius XM on Stars channel 107. It airs the first Tuesday of every month at noon, with additional special broadcasts frequently scheduled. I’m also working on the aforementioned book, and I’ll be appearing again on QVC on May 11th at 10pm on Lisa Robertson’s Show. There are also multiple consulting clients that I am working with here in the US and abroad.

Fern is widely credited as the creator of New York Fashion Week (as it’s known today).  Fern Mallis brought New York City to the forefront of the fashion world in 1993, when she served as Executive Director of CFDA, Council of Fashion Designers of America.  As Senior Vice President at IMG Fashion, she was instrumental in creating Fashion Week in Los Angeles and Miami, and traveled the world as Fashion Week’s global ambassador to cities including Mumbai, Berlin, Sydney, Tokyo, Dubai and Moscow. Today she is president of Fern Mallis LLC., her own leading international fashion and design consultancy firm.

Written by Eden Herbstman

Edited by Jonathan Metzelaar

Photography by Patrick McMullan & Clint Spaulding for Patrick McMullan.com

Design by Marie Havens

Captions:

Page 1/Cover:

Fern Mallis, 2012 Pratt Institute Fashion Show + Cocktail Benefit Honoring Fern Mallis, recipient of the 2012 Pratt Institute Fashion Industry Lifetime Achievement Award presented by Calvin Klein, Center 548, NYC, April 26, 2012, Photography by Clint Spaulding for Patrick McMullan.com

Page 2:

Hamish Bowles, Fern Mallis, 2012 Pratt Institute Fashion Show + Cocktail Benefit Honoring Fern Mallis, recipient of the 2012 Pratt Institute Fashion Industry Lifetime Achievement Award presented by Calvin Klein, Center 548, NYC, April 26, 2012, Photography by Clint Spaulding for Patrick McMullan.com

Page 3:

Fern Mallis, Calvin Klein, 2012 Pratt Institute Fashion Show + Cocktail Benefit Honoring Fern Mallis, recipient of the 2012 Pratt Institute Fashion Industry Lifetime Achievement Award presented by Calvin Klein, Center 548, NYC, April 26, 2012, Photography by Clint Spaulding for Patrick McMullan.com

Page 4:

Fern Mallis, 2012 Pratt Institute Fashion Show + Cocktail Benefit Honoring Fern Mallis, recipient of the 2012 Pratt Institute Fashion Industry Lifetime Achievement Award presented by Calvin Klein, Center 548, NYC, April 26, 2012, Photography by Clint Spaulding for Patrick McMullan.com

Page 4:

(Left) Fern Mallis, Tom Schutte, 2012 Pratt Institute Fashion Show + Cocktail Benefit Honoring Fern Mallis, recipient of the 2012 Pratt Institute Fashion Industry Lifetime Achievement Award presented by Calvin Klein, Center 548, NYC, April 26, 2012, Photography by Patrick McMullan for Patrick McMullan.com

(Right) Tom Schutte, Fern Mallis, 2012 Pratt Institute Fashion Show + Cocktail Benefit Honoring Fern Mallis, recipient of the 2012 Pratt Institute Fashion Industry Lifetime Achievement Award presented by Calvin Klein, Center 548, NYC, April 26, 2012, Photography by Patrick McMullan for Patrick McMullan.com

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