Fern Mallis has seen New York Fashion Week evolve into a global sensation.

Interview by Stacey Makiya

Frequently referred to as The Godmother of Fashion, Fern Mallis created 7th on Sixth (or New York Fashion Week) in 1993, the year the iconic white tents first went up in Bryant Park. Over the past three decades, Mallis has been instrumental in bringing life to new fashion weeks in Miami, Moscow and Mumbai. She’s also been the executive director of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, the senior vice president of IMG Fashion, host and creator of the interview series Fashion Icons at 92nd Street Y and, most recently, the author of Fashion Lives: Fashion Icons with Fern Mallis. We knew this was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to learn the ins and outs of a great fashion week, so we rang her up to chat.

How have shows changed over the years, besides the iconic white tents?

The initial reason to create 7th on Sixth was to organize, centralize and modernize the American runways shows. Over the years it went from being a very, very exclusive, insider industry event to something more mass and more entertainment. The number of shows has increased significantly from 60 to over 300 a week. It’s impossible for people to see all of them.

What’s your favorite part of any fashion week that you’ve been a part of? 

The experience and opportunity the shows provide new talent to be seen and discovered, that’s my favorite part. When people see someone new and everybody feels like WOW, he’s somebody we want to watch, that always feels right and good. 

What tips do you have for young professionals in this field?

Be nice. But, also be a sponge. Absorb everything around you in your culture, visit museums, attend the theater and art shows. Travel and see the world. All that experience and visual knowledge will carry on to your job and expand your creativity. 

How do you think city fashion weeks help start-up designers?

They offer the designers an opportunity to see their clothing on a runway, on models in front of an audience including potential customers, buyers and consumers. That’s a very big deal. It’s also a chance for the designers to see a whole look put together and get a sense of an audience reaction, which is a very eye-opening experience.  

What qualities do designers look for when the book models for NYFW?

Designers are looking for more African-American, Asian, Latin, Polynesian models. Obviously they’re going to look for somebody who can convey what they’re doing and someone who looks beautiful with the clothes on, knows how to walk, photographs well, and can be a canvas and adapt to change for each designer. 

Is it possible for local talents to stay at home and still succeed, and gain global recognition?

That’s difficult to answer. If you want to be a Broadway star, there’s only one Broadway, but, if you want to work in finance, you could work from anywhere in the world. For modeling and fashion design, it is possible to do it anywhere, but if you want to be in front of a larger audience including buyers and magazine editors, that’s going to be in New York. 

What one piece in your closet has never gone out of style?

I have a lot of clothing from India because I’ve worked on the Mumbai Fashion Week for a long time, and Indian clothes are just timeless. The most important thing in my closet is what I tell people they have to have, and that’s a full-length mirror.

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