Fern Mallis is a fashion powerhouse. Credited as the woman who made New York Fashion Week what it is today, she is one of fashion’s most important visionaries to date.
Known as one of the most prolific women in the industry, she has served as the Executive Director for the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) from 1991 to 2001, she started work with 7th on Sixth to bring an event which, “organised, centralised and modernised the American runways” to Bryant Park which is still there today as New York Fashion Week. When 7th on Sixth was acquired by IMG in 2001, Mallis became the Senior Vice President for IMG Fashion, a role that also saw her become their global ambassador.
With a wealth of knowledge and experience any young person hoping to crack the industry would profit from, it comes as no surprise that Mallis has featured on programmes including America’s Next Top Model, Project Runway and The Fashion Show to name just a few. She currently hosts Fashion Icons With Fern Mallis a conversation show at New York’s prestigious 92nd Street Y. Her guests have included fashions big wigs from Calvin Klein to Marc Jacobs and Diane von Furstenberg. We won’t even try to mention the awards she’s also received – think titles like Fashion Legacy, Leadership and Lifetime Achievement Award.
On top of all this, having her own leading international fashion and design consultancy – Fern Mallis LLC – it’s hard to believe that she has even found time to visit Dubai for Fashion Forward Season Three. We managed to catch up with Mallis before her talk (Fashion Week: Going Forward?) to discuss what makes a fashion week and look at how the scene is changing.
In your opinion do fashion weeks matter?
They do, for a whole lot of reasons, I think they bring so much to the table and create a lot of opportunities for many different people.
Which is the best city for fashion?
I clearly have a special spot in my heart for NYC, having been instrumental in putting it together and making it a fashion capital, but I would be naïve to not say that Paris is really one of the true fashion capitals of the world. Paris is the country where everybody from the government to the street sweeper knows what it means to the country.
What are the factors that lead to a successful fashion week?
In New York, for example, there was talent that was doing things that needed to be seen and sold. The designers there brought something special to the world when fashion week first started. They were doing a lot of sportswear. They were doing clothing that worked and that set them apart in the early stages. Paris, on the other hand, was all about what people would wear to parties, Milan was about the textiles, tailoring and workmanship, but New York was creating clothing for women in the workplace, which had a real explosion 20 years ago.
What does it take to make it in the fashion industry?
It takes perseverance. It takes a great deal of patience and an unbelievable amount of passion. For me, I like to say common sense and designers need to have somebody that’s got their back, watching this business and helping to make it successful. Designers shouldn’t have to be burdened with the tough business elements of running such a business.
What’s your opinion on bloggers and social media when it comes to fashion weeks?
Good bloggers are good for business and bad bloggers aren’t. I think we have to acknowledge what social media and technology is doing. I still find it almost reprehensible at shows that nobody is really watching them anymore. Everyone has their phone in their hand and is taking pictures all the time. I’m like will somebody just watch the clothing and stop trying to make sure they have the right picture? I’ve always thought that was a problem, until a young editor refuted me and said if everybody is sending out the same picture or likes the same thing, it’s a great signal to a company or editors about what they should be marketing and writing about.
It’s a new world now and people don’t ever have to be in a store. I enjoy watching it but I wish I was 30 years younger so I could be a little more astute and capable of rising to the occasion. I think it’s progress and it’s where we’re headed and we need to make sure we are a part of it.
Are designers taking fashion shows too far? Is it less about the clothes and more about the spectacle?
That’s just Chanel. Nobody else can do what Karl Lagerfeld does and nobody else attempts to create the type of environment that he creates. It’s extraordinary what that man does and what he’s done with that brand. Nobody else can afford to do what he does and I’m just sorry that I’m not here, in the UAE, for his resort show. It will be a spectacle and I wouldn’t be surprised if he did it in the desert somewhere and he made everybody troop out there. I’m sure he’ll take advantage of what this part of the world is all about. There are hotels everywhere, so what does Dubai have that nobody else does? It will probably take Karl Lagerfeld to remind everybody about that.
How do you think Dubai’s identity with fashion has changed since your last visit nearly seven years go?
There wasn’t a fashion week when I came here. I came here for a luxury conference and then came back a year later with colleagues from different offices of IMG, where I was at the time. We were meeting with different people about opportunities to expand the fashion portfolio here, but nothing came to fruition. I always left with a sense of fascination though about this place because it is like nowhere else. To think that in the last 30 years this city became what it is today is just unbelievable. Dubai has proved that if somebody has the imagination, creativity and the partnership with the money to back it, you can create anything.
What are you expectations for Fashion Forward?
I come with no expectations. I don’t like to do that. I’m wide open to hear, see and observe. It looks like it’s going to be a successful journey.
Fashion Week: Going Forward by Fern Mallis will be held at Fashion Forward on Sunday April 13 at 6.30pm. Visit fashionforward.ae for more information