Fern Mallis is one of the most powerful women in fashion, having reigned over New York Fashion Week in Bryant Park for 19 years.
Mallis was raised with fashion in her blood. “My dad, my uncles, [and] his brothers all worked in the [garment] industry, and I grew up going to work with my dad every chance I got,” Mallis explains in an interview with Steve Sims on the “Art of Making Things Happen” Podcast.”
An early fascination with all of the mechanics of fashion: “the fabric, the clothing, the shipping, and the trucks” led to Mallis being selected as one of 20 college guest editors for Mademoiselle magazine, a leading title at Conde Naste, when she was still studying in university. That gig led to a seven-year stint at Mademoiselle as a Merchandising Editor. “I went all over the country doing store events and makeovers… bringing the magazine to life,” says Mallis.
After leaving Mademoiselle, Mallis became the Fashion Director at Gimbels East department store before taking a brief detour into the fields of architecture and interior design. “Then I threw my hat in the ring propitiously… the Council of Fashion Designers of America was looking for a new director.” She was hand-selected for the prestigious position by Calvin Klein, Bill Blass, and other important figures in fashion.
Before Mallis even got into the CFDA office, she had her first crisis on her hands when the ceiling collapsed on a Michael Kors fashion show. “It landed on the shoulders of Naomi, Cindy, Linda, all the one-name supermodels. The editors wrote the next day, ‘We live for fashion; we don’t want to die for it’.” As a result, Mallis had to look for a safe place for American fashion designers to show their work. “And hence… New York Fashion Week was really born.”
After ten years of working on the show, talent management giant IMG bought Mallis’ company and she became a Senior VP there. “And,” says Mallis, “we started to expand around the world.” Mallis’ work helped to start and fine-tune fashion weeks across the globe.
Mallis brought the entrepreneurial spirit that led her to such great success with Fashion Week with her even after leaving IMG. “My reinvention is something that I’m very proud of… I did an off-broadway play… I had a radio show… And that’s when my series started at the 92nd Street Y called ‘Fashion Icons with Fern Mallis’… and it’s beyond my wildest dreams successful.” Mallis’ interview show with icons of fashion regularly sells 900 tickets for one night.
Additionally, Mallis has already published one book, Fashion Lives, and is working on a second, in which she’ll interview such industry giants as Ralph Rucci, Jim Moore, and Amy Fine Collins.
Speaking about the importance of the fashion industry, Mallis points out that “everybody wears clothes. Everybody doesn’t read a book. Everybody doesn’t go to the movies… But everybody’s wearing clothing.” She points to a coming shift in the industry, saying “sustainability is the new black.”
For newcomers to the fashion industry, Mallis recommends to “stay focused, stay passionate. Don’t take no for an answer. Surround yourself with smart people. And just keep plugging along because the game is changing every minute.” She points to the fact that with the internet and social media, “all the rules have changed. So you just have to be smart, pay attention, and know who you’re creating a business for.”
She continues, “Entrepreneur is a state of mind, not an age… It’s an attitude. If you have an idea, go for it. If you’re creative and you have something you want to do, do it.”
To learn more about Fern Mallis:
Website: Fern Mallis
Book: Fashion Lives
To hear the podcast with Fern Mallis and Steve Sims
Subscribe to: That Art of Making Things Happen with Steve Sims