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Role Call | John Gallagher, Fit Model

John Gallagher, fit model and consultant, says you can’t control everything in your career, but you can control how prepared you are for what’s next.
John Gallagher | Source: Courtesy
By
  • Kati Chitrakorn

There are few sectors of the economy that offer as wide and interesting a range of career opportunities as fashion. Role Call highlights some of the industry’s most interesting jobs and the talented people who do them. For more information about fashion industry roles like this and others, visit BoF Careers.

NEW YORK, United States — John Gallagher is a fit consultant and model, represented by Click Models in New York. After graduating from Central Connecticut State University in Marketing, and with encouragement from his older sister and her photographer husband, Gallagher pieced together a model portfolio from a series of creative test shots, giving him a foot in the door with Elite Model Management in New York. Soon after, Gallagher moved to Milan and Tokyo to work in print and TV.

Since then, Gallagher has been represented by both Wilhelmina and Ford Models, the latter of which he was signed with for 17 years. In January 2015, Gallagher left Ford Models and signed with Click. Today, Gallagher is one of the most popular fit models in the business, having worked with more than 70 brands, including Coach, Theory, Abercrombie & Fitch, Gap Inc., Uniqlo, Brooks Brothers, Burberry, Calvin Klein, J.Crew and Tommy Hilfiger. There are also over 1,000 mannequins based on Gallagher's frame and measurements in use by fashion brands and tailor shops around the world.

BoF: Please describe your current role.

I work as a fit consultant and model for a wide range of retail companies and designers. As a fit consultant, I work with design teams, technical design teams and merchants as they work on the fit of every garment that will hit the stores the following year.

In a fitting, the team will look at every detail of a garment. From fabric choice, stitch detail, pocket shapes and placement, collar shape, wash, and, of course, fit and function. It can take up to four fit samples before we sign off on a garment as approved for production. I try on the product during our fitting and consult on what changes need to be made to make it perfect for production. Sometimes there are many changes, and other times, very little needs to be changed. The technical designers I work with do an amazing job with regard to pattern correctness. Every fabric and yarn behaves differently so this business is not a one-pattern-fits-all business. We test the fit and performance on the body and my communication to the tech team is critical in achieving that perfect garment.

As a showroom model, I work with merchants and sales teams to actually sell the product to buyers at department stores Saks, Bergdorf Goodman and Macy’s.

BoF: What attracted you to the role?

I had worked as a model and actor for five years. I was looking for a way to further diversify within the industry. After an introduction from a friend to a pattern maker at Macy’s Private Label, my fit career began. I happened to be the required specification for a men’s 40 regular/medium. Once I learned the vocabulary of the garment world and how to confidently voice my opinion on how to make a garment fit better, my name started getting out there as a go-to fit consultant. By 1996, my schedule was full of fittings, with no time to audition for print and TV. So I decided to focus on fitting and presentation work.

Fit model positions don't open up every day. Once a brand decides on a fit model, that model can work there for years to come.

BoF: What is the most exciting project initiative you have worked on?

Since 1990, I have been fortunate to work with over 70 companies as a fit model. It would be very difficult to pick one as the most exciting. The times that stand out for me are working directly with industry icons like Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger, Mickey Drexler of Gap and J.Crew, and John Varvatos. At Gap, I was involved with the 1969 Jeans launch, designed by Adriano Goldschmied, and The Born To Fit campaign. I also enjoyed working with J.Crew on creating the perfect-fitting Ludlow Suit.

In 2005, Alvanon approached me regarding the creation of the John Gallagher Signature Series Mannequin. I am their exclusive 40R signature series model and we have been very successful in marketing these mannequin forms to companies around the world. It’s also fun working with Alvanon because the technology is ever-changing. With the improvements in 3D technology, the John Gallagher Avatar is not far off!

BoF: How is your role changing? What are the forces driving that change?

We have seen a continuous trend in slimmer, more flattering styles across all categories since 2000. It has become even more important to get the fit right on slim styles, because they are much closer to the body. The men’s business has grown incredibly over the past 20 years and competition between brands is greater than ever. Speed to market is another consideration. Having a mannequin that is a copy of your actual fit model in design studios and at the factory level has helped the companies I work for sign off product in half the time.

BoF: Tell us about a time you failed and how you learned from it.

As an athlete my whole life, playing sports in high school and football in college, I was trained by great coaches. You learn to pick yourself up after a defeat and keep fighting. Setbacks and disappointments are part of life. It’s how you respond to them that can set you apart from everyone else.

In 2009, I lost a very large account. My contract was up and the client decided to cut costs due to economic conditions. That same year another client went out of business. These were major setbacks and market conditions were so bad, it was tough to replace those hours with new clients. I used the time to work on my health and fitness to be ready for the next opportunity. That opportunity came in early 2010 when Brooks Brothers hired me to work with them across all categories and brands, including Black Fleece, designed by Thom Browne. I had worked with Thom at Club Monaco years earlier.

I learned that you can’t control everything in your career, but you can control how prepared you are for what’s next.

BoF: What advice do you have for people who are interested in doing what you do?

It’s very competitive on both the men and women’s side of the fit industry. Clients want to know whom you have worked for and for how long. These are long-term relationships you get to develop, but earning a good reputation takes time. Fit model positions don’t open up every day. Once a brand decides on a fit model, that model can work there for years to come. Patience is key.

My advice for people who are interested in entering the fit world is to work with an agency. If you’re taken on by an agency with a fitting division you will be sent on 'fit auditions.' I was able to learn on the job from so many great designers, technical designers and pattern makers. It’s difficult to learn industry terminology and apply it usefully and intelligently to technical teams without experience. For me, it all started with my first client. Listen, learn and participate. Be part of the team and you can become a very valuable asset to every company you work with.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

For more information about fashion industry roles like this and others, visit BoF Careers.

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