Fern Mallis

Before Fern Mallis took over the helm, New Yorkís Fashion Week was all over the place. But as the Executive Director of the Council of Fashion Designers of America from 1991-2001, she centralized and organized the shows to what affectionately became known as The Tents (at Bryant Park). When she stepped down as Senior Vice President of IMG Fashion in 2010, everyone wondered what this fashion insiderís next move would be.

A lot, it turns out. We caught up with the always-on-the-move Mallis the morning after she saw Barbra Streisandís buzzy return to Brooklyn (both women are Brooklyn born-and-bred) at the new Barclays Center.

What are you doing now?
Iím like an octopus; I have tentacles in many different things, which I love. Iím doing Fashion Icons at the 96th Street Y, which is a significant interview series. Last year I interviewed different designers one-on-one on the stage for about 900 people. Norma Kamali, Calvin Klein, Donna Karan, Tom Ford, Michael Kors. Next month is Marc Jacobs. Iím extremely proud of that series. Itís getting tons of play. Thereís also Fashion Insider with Fern Mallis on Sirius. During Fashion Week I spoke to 100 people; interviews, stylists, editors and retailers. Every fashion person that I wanted to talk to. Thatís been great. And I just debuted a collection called Fern Finds on HSN, based on accessories that I buy and find when I travel to India. All of that is available on HSN.com. Good for Christmas. Iím focusing on a lot of different projects. Iím working on Boston and Charleston Fashion Weeks. They have a great young up-and-coming designer showcase which we want to grow and expand.
How did you get started in fashion?
I kind of grew up in it. My father and his family as well as people on my momís side all worked in the garment district. So I was comfortable working with dad and seeing that women had good jobs like fashion directors and buyers. Officially though, when I was at the University of Buffalo, I won a contest to be Mademoiselleís guest editor for their college issue. I worked at Mademoiselle that season, and then after college. My first job was the magazine for six years. I moved around then and got more into retail and became the fashion director for Gimbels East.
What's the best advice you have been given?
It was always about doing a good job. My dad said that there were two ways of succeeding. You can either be really good at what you do or you can sleep your way to the top. Obviously, I only had one choice. He also said that no two people should ever have to worry about the same thing. Itís a waste of time.
And any advice for young people just starting out?
You should sweat the small stuff when youíre starting out. Every little thing matters. Itís not until youíve got the serious work accomplished that can you let that go.
What are you most proud of?
Fashion Week. Thatís an accomplishment and something that Iím extremely proud of. It's rewarding to know that Iím responsible for something that is significant to every person who works in and around this industry. Itís provided income and work. One of the men on the media crews said, ĎYouíre the reason my kids went to good schools ó because you centralized the shows and provided work for so many people for so many years.í
What is the one regret in business you have?
Iím not sure that I regret anything. There are times I wish I had enough time to go to law school. I regret that I donít speak three languages. I think I should have made time to get married and have children.
What is your favorite label that people donít know about?
I love Bibhu Mohapatra. I like a lot of this young talent. A brand that I also love is Donna Karanís Urban Zen, which doesnít get enough play.
What's the most important trait you look for in a young designer or artist entering the creative job market?
You look for a creative energy that you can sense quickly. Itís a sparkle in their eye and their belief in what they do. Thereís a common sense that I look for in people. Sometimes before you see the clothes, you see the people and you get a sense that theyíre on to something. And I think itís important that theyíre nice. Nice is word that I use a lot in my career. Itís important to be nice because people want to work with nice people. Thereís a lot of talent out there, so you may as well work with people you like.
You're Brooklyn born-and-bred. What is your favorite Brooklyn spots?
  • RESTAURANT: I have to say it still is Peter Luger. We go once every four months; weíve been going for over 15 years. We go in and Tommy the maitre d' knows us. I loved Lundyís for seafood. Brennan & Carr for roast beef.
  • PARK: Iíd have to say Prospect. Weíd go when I was young.
  • MOVIE ABOUT BROOKLYN: Itís a toss up between Saturday Night Fever and Moonstruck. Both great.
  • BROOKLYN MUSICIAN: Clearly Barbra Streisand is the Brooklyn musician I love most. I just saw her last night at the new Barclays Center.
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