Interviewing the Interviewer: Fern Mallis on her new book “Fashion Icons 2”

Released in May, Fashion Icons 2: Fashion Lives with Fern Mallis (Rizzoli), should be required reading for anyone considering a career in fashion. Contrary to appearances, a life in the industry is not just about glamour, fashion shows, models and champagne; it’s also about struggle, about making connections and respecting your beliefs. Since 2011, Mallis has conducted 60 interviews as part of her “Fashion Icons” series at the 92nd Street Y. fashion lives, published seven years ago, focused on American talent; Fashion Icons 2 has a broader scope in terms of geography and types of careers. It is published with the support of Nordstrom who will exclusively sell a boxed set of the two volumes, both of which feature engaging new portraits of Ruben Baghdasaryan.

Mallis, who now runs her own consultancy, is a savvy businesswoman. Among her many accomplishments working for the CFDA and later IMG was consolidating New York collections under the tents of Bryant Park, but that’s not the skill set she brings to her series of warm and open conversations. Perhaps it’s because Mallis grew up spending time in the Garment District, where her father sold scarves, that she’s so interested in the human aspects of the industry. She knows firsthand that fashion is a collective and deeply personal effort. “The world knows these names on a label. They see them inside a garment, on a box or a shopping bag, but [these “names”] are people. My conversations with the creators are not: “Tell me about the spring of 1995 versus the fall of 2000”, but rather “Tell me where you grew up”. Tell me about your parents. What was your room like? You discover things that all of a sudden [make] you look at these people in a whole new light and understand who they are,” she says.

I interviewed the interviewer on American fashion, good advice and grandmothers.

Can you tell us about your first interview?
The first one I did was Norma Kamali. Norma has been a friend for about 40 years, so it was easy for me to feel comfortable with her for my first. Norma is the best, I still think she is one of the most talented designers in the country. But anyway, I learned a lot with my Norma interview. I started with a handful of cards, shuffling them around, and moving them around and talking too much about all his rewards and things that I realized weren’t necessary; you can just read that in any biography. Then I got more organized and the next was Calvin Klein. And when Calvin came on stage, I said, ‘Why are you here? You sold your business 10 years ago. You don’t have anything to sell, you’re not launching a perfume, you’re not promoting something new. And he said, ‘I’m here because you asked me to.’ And I said, ‘Good answer.’ And that opened the floodgates for everyone to say yes.

Angela C. Hale