Widely credited with transforming New York Fashion Week into one of the big four fashion events on the international circuit, native New Yorker Fern Mallis is a celebrated fashion consultant. For ten years, from 1991-2001, she was the executive director of the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA), the country’s governing body of fashion designers and runway shows. In 1993, she started the initiative to organise a modern and centralised platform for American fashion designers to display their clothing and called the event ‘Seventh on Sixth’.
The event grew quickly, and was acquired by global media giant IMG in 2001, after which Mallis became a senior vice president at IMG Fashion and also became its ambassador, traveling around the world to fashion shows and competitions. She also orchestrated New York Fashion Week’s move to the tents in Bryant Park, where shows have now been running for 15 years. Under her guidance, IMG added new fashion weeks around the world in cities like Los Angeles, Melbourne, Miami, and Berlin, among others, to their show portfolio.
A noted philanthropist, Mallis has spearheaded charity events and initiatives that have raised millions of dollars for organisations like Design Industries Foundation Fighting Aids (DIFFA) and the CFDA’s Fashion Targets Breast Cancer, which has raised close to $100 million in merchandising and licensing.
For her efforts in promoting fashion as an artistic and cultural endeavor around the world, Mallis has been awarded lifetime achievement awards from the Pratt Institute , presented to her by celebrated designer Calvin Klein in 2012, and the Fashion Institute of Technology , as well as numerous trade and civic organisations. She is now an independent fashion consultant at her eponymous firm, having parted ways with IMG in 2010 (“I was there to help the fashion community, and they were there to make a dollar,” she told The New York Times).
However, Mallis has remained a fixture on the fashion media scene. She is perhaps now best known for hosting a series of talks at New York’s 92Y, dubbed ‘Fashion Icons’, in which she holds conversations with fashion luminaries, such as journalist Suzy Menkes , designers Kenneth Cole, Tom Ford , and Diane von Furstenberg , photographer Bruce Weber , and so on. Mallis has also made frequent appearances on other media outlets, including as a guest judge on reality series Project Runway and on The Fashion Show, alongside other personalities like Heidi Klum and Isaac Mizrahi.
In recent seasons, however, the original creator of New York Fashion Week has been rethinking the utility of runway shows in general, given the media frenzy and spectacle around the bi-annual shows, which often detracts from the original purpose of attending – so journalists and buyers can see new-season designs. “Fashion Week needs to be rethought,” she told Eric Wilson of the New York Times in September 2013.