Once upon a time, Fern Mallis had one of the most exciting jobs in the fashion industry. The creator of New York Fashion Week, she served as the senior vice president at IMG Fashion and executive director of the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA). But eventually, after 20 years, she realized it was time to move on and begin her next chapter.
She soon began hosting a conversation series called Fashion Icons with Fern Mallis at the 92ndStreet Y interviewing industry heavyweights like Norma Kamali, Calvin Klein, Tom Ford, and Donna Karan. It was such a success that her engaging chats were made into two books: Fashion Lives in 2015 and the just-released Fashion Icons 2: Fashion Lives with Fern Mallis (Rizzoli), which she wrote over the pandemic.
“It became a perfect time to work on it because in reflecting on many of the stories of the people in this book, they were more relevant than ever because so many of them are about reinventing their lives and how to triumph from failure, start over again, and become successful,” says Mallis who now has her own consultancy.
Open the pages of Fashion Icons 2 and it’s like you’ve scored access to the lives and pivoting prowess of fashion’s finest. There’s Tim Gunn who once described himself as a terrible student. He vacillated between interests, majors, and even schools. “Having that background, he became one of the most impactful academic deans at Parsons and reinvented the fashion program there,” says Mallis. This is all before he became a household name starring on Project Runway.
Then there’s Victoria Beckham who went from being in one of the most famous girl groups of all time to become one of the most celebrated designers in the world. “When she premiered her collection at New York Fashion Week, there were only 10 dresses,” says Mallis. “She remembered that no one wanted to take her seriously as a designer but then Ken Downing, who at the time was the fashion director of Neiman Marcus, told everyone in his office to run, not walk to Victoria Beckham.” The rest is history.
Inspiration abounds in Fashion Icons 2. “I just want people to feel empowered, inspired, and like, ‘I can do that too,’” says Mallis. “Everybody’s got a story, and everybody’s story is relevant.” In this era of reinvention, as so many of us are navigating the twists and turns of our career paths, these stories of perseverance and passion are right on time. Mallis’s own advice is pretty straightforward: Do something you love and surround yourself with like-minded people. “No overnight success is overnight,” she says. “Just stay the course and stay true to what’s meaningful to you.” And the advice isn’t just inspirational, it’s also tangible, like this parting nugget from Mallis: “If you want to start any kind of business, be sure to get a lawyer early on.” Stylish and smart, now who doesn’t want that?
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