Fern Mallis Finds a New Chapter in Fashion
by jill sieracki
“Fern is in every way the embodiment of what’s so great about the fashion industry,” said Peter Som.
“People like Fern tend to not get the celebrity, but they do things quietly and with great depth and meaning,” echoed Norma Kamali.
And the endorsements kept coming—from John Varvatos and Betsey Johnson, Dennis Basso and Catherine Malandrino—as designer Calvin Klein presented Southampton’s Fern Mallis with Pratt Institute’s Fashion Industry Lifetime Achievement Award this past spring. But as designers such as Isaac Mizrahi and Jeffrey Banks proclaimed, maybe this should be a “half a lifetime” award as Mallis still has plenty of projects in the works including Fern Finds: by Fern Mallis, a jewelry collection with QVC of exotic necklaces, rings, and bracelets; “Fashion Icons with Fern Mallis,” a constantly sold-out conversation series at Manhattan’s 92nd Street Y featuring design luminaries like Tom Ford and Michael Kors; and an eponymous program on Sirius XM where Mallis talks with fashion innovators such as Mickey Drexler, Vivienne Tam, and Russell Simmons. “I like to be in a place where you’re not exactly sure where the opportunity is, but you’re willing to be open to it,” says Mallis. “I’m trying to enjoy the here and now, but I know there are marvelous, wonderful things ahead.”
It’s a profound statement considering the seismic shock that rippled throughout the fashion industry when Mallis stepped down from her position as Senior Vice President of IMG Fashion in 2010. “People think sometimes when you leave those kinds of high-profile jobs, then nobody’s going to want you anymore, and I wrestled with that a little bit when I decided to leave,” says Mallis who created Fashion Week during her tenure as the executive director of the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA). “It was just time. And it was nice to have the ability to take the time off to breathe, go to my house in Southampton, and enjoy it in the way I always thought I would when I bought it 15 years ago.”
Mallis’ home, a traditional cedar shingle saltbox set on a peaceful lake, holds a bohemian mix of trinkets and treasures—much of it found on her international travels with IMG and the CFDA. “The spirituality I get in India is in the markets, stalls, and in the little creative places within the design community,” says Mallis, who plans to use the Fern Finds jewelry collection to curate undiscovered overseas artists who she hopes to introduce to the American market. “I buy a lot of things there because I’m just seduced by the colors, the shapes, the materials, and the creativity.”
The collection is just another example of Mallis’ innate ability to mentor talent—Mallis’ first assistant, Jane Hertzmark Hudis, is now global brand president at Estée Lauder. Her offices have been the launching pad for today’s influencers in television (Lori Schulweis, production coordinator at Live! With Kelly), fashion (Ann Waterman, senior vice president of global marketing at Michael Kors), and culture (Sidney Burgos, lectures administrator at 92nd Street Y), not to mention the myriad designers she’s shepherded into stardom. “I run into people everywhere who have interned and worked for me,” says Mallis, “and that’s very much the benchmark of what I think is a successful career.”
But for now, Mallis loves the place she’s in, both in her career and on the East End. “It sounds cliché almost, but it’s the light, the air—this is just the most remarkable place ever,” she says of the Hamptons, where she favors dinner at Coast Grill and Tutto Il Giorno, cappuccino at Sant Ambroeus, and lobster at Schmidt’s. “It is that escape. You could not see anybody and do nothing or you can go to 20 things and see a million friends. You don’t ever feel abandoned, even when you’re quiet and alone, and I love having a place to just chill.”
photography by evan sung