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People of Fashion – Fern Mallis

People of Fashion – Fern Mallis
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During the recent fashion week, which was rather chaotic with events all over the city, I got to thinking about the work of Fern Mallis who, during her tenure with CFDA/7th on 6th galvanized the NY fashion scene.

Fern is currently touring with her book “Icons”, which is based on her interviews through the years with such notables as Bill Cunningham, Calvin Klein, Tom Ford and Valentino. I caught up with her when she spoke at the national arts club at Gramercy Park. Her career started in home design, but she found herself at a crucial turning point in American fashion. She saw that designers were all staging runway shows at random spaces around town. Everything was disorganized and confusing especially for out of town buyers and press. Many of the lofts were dangerous and not set up for the public. After an incident at a Michael Kors show in which debris fell from the ceiling onto the head of reporter Suzy Menkes, Fern knew that NYC had to get its act together. She spearheaded the idea of the tents at Bryant Park with an official New York fashion week.

The board of the CFDA asked her to join and she became THE person to put together the calendar as well as deal with all the competing egos and personalities. She got the designers to realize that NYC could be a serious presence if they banded together the way they do in Paris and Milan. NYC had the potential to attract international buyers, manufacturers and editors who could come and do major business here. She completely changed the landscape and took NY fashion week to a whole new level.

She also quickly saw how fashion shows and events could be used to raise money for charities. She has raised huge amounts over the years for AIDS and breast cancer charities and launched the first 7th on Sale. She has taken this fundraising idea to other cities and countries, most notably Brazil. Fern has also been tasked with arranging fashion weeks in foreign countries, with her favorite being India. She mentors many young designers in Mumbai and has even created a line of accessories based on her travels there. “Fern’s Finds” has been featured on both QVC and HSN.

When the CFDA decided to leave Bryant Park for Lincoln Center, a move she did not agree with, she felt the time had come to retire from the board and transition into a new phase of her career. She is now free to consult on all manner of projects, and works with cities that want to create their own fashion week. She does her series with the 92Y interviewing people in fashion as well as having her own radio show. She has been able to diversify and have a fabulous second act; all after turning 50!!

Fern’s fashion series at the 92Y continues with Alexander Wang on Nov. 3rd and Patricia Fields on Dec. 14.

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