Tom Ford on the conversational series hosted by Fern Mallis at 92 Y in New York Image Credit: Fern Mallis/Facebook

New Yorker Fern Mallis revolutionised the fashion industry in the US in the 90s by creating and organising New York Fashion Week in Bryant Park that went on to change the runway game worldwide. Without having her own fashion label, she is one of the most recognised faces in fashion today and according to New York magazine, was the most photographed person in New York in 2010. The award-winning fashion and design consultant released her first book Fashion Lives – Fashion Icons with Fern Mallis earlier this year, based on the series that she hosts at the 92nd Street Y in New York, featuring her conversations with America’s prodigious fashion luminaries such as Tom Ford, Marc Jacobs, the late Oscar de la Renta, Donna Karan and many more. “Her amazing energy and passion and respect for the art of fashion and those who craft and celebrate it have been her life’s work,” wrote Ralph Lauren in his foreword in the book. Mallis’ affable persona belies her extraordinary achievements in the glamorous world of high fashion and couture worldwide. In between her enviably busy life in Manhattan, her picturesque lake house in the Hamptons and travelling across the world, the legendary fashion visionary, now president of her own design and fashion consultancy firm, Fern Mallis LLC, spoke to tabloid! from Philadelphia Fashion Week, where she is being honoured with yet another Fashion Icon award.

Another season of New York Fashion Week commences September 10. What is the key difference from back in the 90’s when you first conceptualised the Mercedes Benz Fashion Week to the event as it is today?

When the first organised and centralised shows were created in Bryant Park back in 1993, there was a focus and energy pulsing from this central location. It became something to strive for. “A show in Bryant Park” meant you had made it. I think the biggest difference is the technology and the media, which has changed everything in this industry as in all others. NYFW which is still meant to be a trade event now has a consumer feel to it. It no longer is an ‘insider’ activity. Everyone who attends now has a cell phone or other hand held device and is reporting, blogging, posting, instagramming, pinning, tweeting and taking pictures that are instantly available to the world, and that has changed the exclusive nature of this event. I have way too many memories of setting up this event those oh-so-many years ago. Now, it is scattered into 4-5 locations hosting multiple shows and another 100+ independent locations. It will be a tough season to see it all as traffic in New York city is as bad as it is in Mumbai and Dubai.

Whose shows are you looking forward to seeing this season at NYFW?

I’m always looking forward to seeing many shows, and in fact this season, there are more names I’ve never seen before and don’t know much about, so hopefully, we’ll discover a lot of new talent.

You were involved in setting up numerous fashion weeks around the world — Berlin, Los Angeles, Miami and India too — which has since multiplied into many more of the original. What do you make of the impact fashion weeks have on the multi-billion dollar fashion industry today?

Fashion weeks all over the world are a terrific expression of the creativity that exists all over the world. One doesn’t necessarily have to show in the big 3-4 cities to be a designer. There are talented people everywhere, and the world is a very big marketplace, consuming and admiring fashion. Fashion weeks generate significant revenue for the various cities that hold them and also provide a creative marketing platform for a region. I’ve always felt that the fashion industry in general, in every country, should get more respect for both its creative contribution as well as its economic impact.

Earlier this year you released your first book Fashion Lives – Fashion Icons with Fern Mallis with a foreword by Ralph Lauren. The book, based on the conversational series you host had all 16 windows of Saks fronting Fifth Avenue and the side streets of E49th and 50th Streets — another first — with all your designer friends such as Calvin Klein, Michael Kors, DVF, at the launch. What prompted you to write it?

This book is a culmination of my life’s work in many ways and it is one of my proudest achievements. Ironically, it was over a cup of tea, given I was in my coffee phase (always Nespresso, never Starbucks), with my photographer friend Timothy Greenfield-Sanders that the birth of the 92Y series began. I spent 20 years championing designers and the work they do, but I’d always felt that these amazingly talented people, never really had the opportunity to tell their stories. I thought how great it would be to get some of these iconic designers and friends I have worked with to share their stories on stage and that’s how Fashion Lives happened. I don’t really drink as much coffee now, and this phase of my life is exciting and unpredictable — just the way I like it. I let the universe deliver and it has — it delivered this book.

Who made for your favourite conversation(s) in the book?

This is the most difficult question to answer — they all were very special and unique and each had revelations and never before heard stories, humour and tears… and lots of advice and information about our fashion world.

You interviewed Victoria Beckham recently at the 92Y…

It was a great interview. Victoria was charming, funny, smart and on top of her game. She is truly devoted to her family and her children, but has built a fabulous and well-respected fashion business. She’s a force to be reckoned with.

… And your next conversation is with the legendary supermodel Iman on September 8…

I’m doing my research now and Iman is one amazing, beautiful, smart, talented lady. I can’t wait to hear and share her stories.

Who would you have liked to have in your book, that didn’t make it?

Well, I love that Ralph Lauren did the foreword for my book, but I still want a full-on interview with him. I’m still trying to convince him to do it.

What do you make of the fashion in the Middle East?

It’s a lot of contrasts, from traditional garb — shaylas and abayas — to complete couture, and very fashionable. It’s also in a way, very stylish, form fitting or very loose and covered up. There is a very style conscious population who appreciates fashion and tons of accessories, which I always love. It has also become a crossroad of the world connecting Europe and Asia, and a hub for travel and shopping. I’ve never seen so many fabulous shops and boutiques from brands all over the world that would take years to visit in their respective countries.

I’ve attended Dubai’s Fashion Forward over a year ago, gave a keynote address and met with many of the designers. I’ve attended an earlier version of Dubai Fashion Week and have entered in several discussions with organisers, and various government agencies, D3 etc, who are all rallying to make a bigger, more impactful statement about fashion in Dubai.

You are on first name basis with the American First Lady, Michelle Obama and the next president in the running Hillary Clinton. What is the most significant difference between the two ladies?

They are both remarkable women who are committed to public service. Hillary has held some of the most important positions ever in our country and I sincerely hope she will be our next President.

Define fashion, style and glamour…

It’s confidence and a sense of security in who you are and what makes you feel comfortable.

What is Fern Mallis like when she is not doing anything — if that’s even possible?

Very chill, love being at my lake house, gardening and cooking and trying to catch up with reading.


— Rubina A Khan is a Mumbai-based journalist and photographer.


Read it

Fashion Lives – Fashion Icons with Fern Mallis is available in the UAE at Kinokuniya for Dh236.