By Hannah Yakobi
Photography by Kareen Mallon
She is one of the most recognized women in the fashion world: formerly the executive director of the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) and senior vice-president of IMG Fashion, creator of 7th on Sixth Productions (now known as the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in New York), and currently the president of a leading fashion and design consultancy firm. She works hard and inspires many. Step into her Manhattan home and you will be submerged in a sea of souvenirs from around the world, handwritten notes from Tom Ford and Ralph Lauren, and bouquets of fresh flowers. She pays close attention to design talents around the world, and also has her own jewelry line. She is Fern Mallis.
In this Exclusive, FAJO Magazine catches up with the renowned fashion figure at her home in the heart of New York City.
I have been following your Fashion Icons with Fern Mallis interview series for a while. Can you tell us a bit more about this project, as well as any other collaborations you are currently working on?
The Fashion Icons with Fern Mallis series is done for 92nd Street Y, which is one of New York’s cultural institutions. I invited some designers to join me at the show and we had a spectacular first season that just concluded in June. I interviewed someone almost every month, including Calvin Klein, Donna Karan, Tommy Hilfiger, Tom Ford and Michael Kors. It was great – all of them were fantastic.
Simultaneously, I have a show on satellite radio called Fashion Insiders. Each of the interviews I do at the Y is aired on that station, which has many millions of subscribers. I do other special programming too and have guests in the studio who talk about menswear, the CFDA awards and fashion week.
I’m also working on my own design collection, which is primarily jewelry and accessories. It’s going to be expanding into ready-to-wear, all based primarily on my global travels. The clothing collection is very premature right now, so we probably won’t see it until later in the fall.
In addition, I’m consulting with a couple of different companies, including Fashion GPS. As you know, they manage most of the fashion events and parties here. There are a lot of opportunities, and we are looking at expanding and growing their business so that, ultimately, they track everything that is going on in the industry.
And I’m going to India at the beginning of August. I’m on a board of a company called Tara – they are large gold producers in India for jewelry that is exported worldwide.
Sounds like you are very busy. How do you find the time to do everything?
Well, all these projects have their place and value. It’s not different than having a full-time job where you are just busy all day long. In addition, I spend a great deal of time meeting with a lot of different people, getting everything organized and doing research for my interviews.
Do you travel a lot and do you have a place where you retreat after a busy day?
I’m always traveling a little bit. This past season I was in Charleston, S.C., for a fashion week and then spent a couple of days in Savannah, G.A., which I love. I also just returned from a retreat in Rochester, N.Y.
Apart from India, there may be trips to London and China that I’m awaiting a confirmation for. Other than that, I kind of hate summer traveling because I really love being at my house in the country.
After a busy week, I retreat to a special paradise of mine, which is my home in Southampton. It’s on a very beautiful lake and it really is my Zen place. You just look at the water and everything is all right with the world when you are there. The flowers are beautiful and it has very lush landscaping. The lake is gorgeous. That’s the place that really refreshes and nourishes me.
You have organized and attended a lot of fashion events around the world. Do you think that the widely used term ‘fashion capitals’ is still applicable? How do you feel about that kind of terminology?
There are a lot of fashion capitals – it depends on what you are looking for, where you are and where are the brands that you wear. There are people in Europe who believe that nothing exists outside of Paris, and there are people in Milan and New York who feel that way about their own cities. I don’t think London, New York, Milan and Paris compete. They all understand what the other does and what each stands for. And the truth is that there is fashion being produced, developed, manufactured and sold all over the world.
Canada has several very prolific fashion weeks, for example. I haven’t been to Montréal yet but have been to Toronto, and I know Robin Kay very well. And when I go to India in August, my board meetings will coincide with Mumbai Fashion Week, which I have been involved with for over 10 years.
Each of these events has its own purpose and raison d’être. They’ve all created a platform and have come to New York over the years to see what we did. Now, IMG Fashion is involved in many of them. There are a lot of fashion weeks across the U.S. too – Boston, Rochester, San Francisco, Miami.
You meet many designers on a regular basis. Do you have a favourite one whose clothing you wear frequently?
I have been acquiring a lot of clothing throughout my career and through my relationships with many designers. So it’s really difficult to play favourites and I also don’t shop nearly as much as I used to.
Right now, I have a brand new outfit by Michael Kors that I love and that I wore to my recent interview with him. I also wear a lot of Indian designers because I have been going to India for so many years. I like the work of Kallol Datta a great deal, and for many fancy occasions I wear Naeem Khan’s clothes.
You come from a very creative family and have said in the past that you were inspired by your father and uncles. Has your family played a big role in supporting you throughout your career?
Absolutely. I think that family is very important in being an inspiration and support mechanism. Unfortunately, my parents and my uncles have passed away quite a few years ago, so I can’t say that all of them have had the opportunity to share in my success. However, my folks did know that I was running New York Fashion Week, and I think that brought them an enormous amount of satisfaction and pride. I think they would all be very pleased with how my life continues to transition and evolve.
I’ve always had a very creative family in general. My parents were both very creative, I have a sister who is an architect, and another sister who is a painter. My nieces are very creative too – one is heading to the Rhode Island School of Design in the fall, another oversees many of the divisions at Christie’s in the art world, and the third one does fashion PR in London.
You’ve won a lot of awards in the last couple of decades. Whenever you win, who is the first person you normally call?
I call my sister, who lives in Boston, and my best friend Scott Bromley, who is an architect here in New York. He’s actually Canadian and went to McGill University. He was the designer of Studio 54.
Having acquired incredible experience in the industry, what qualities do you think are necessary to succeed in the fashion business today?
I think it’s the same traits that you’ve always needed to succeed. Talent, brain, timing, personality and character – that’s what people are looking for all the time. And no matter what the economic scenario is, if someone comes in the door and has all of those traits, they will get acknowledged, recognized and hired.
Persistence has a part in it too, because there are not a lot of jobs but there is a lot of competition. People have to be adaptable and open. They have to be a sponge and willing to just take the bull by the horns. The fashion world is an interesting place.
A photoshoot at Mallis’ home in New York
Designers Blue dress: Brandon Sun. Skull enamel pendant: Solange Azagury-Partridge. Pendant worn with blue dress: Fern Finds. Other credits Black-and-white photo depicts Mallis' parents; the photo of the fashion show is Mallis on a scene of Sex and the City, the movie. All decorations in Mallis' home are gathered from all over the world. Most are from India, Brazil, South Africa and Italy.