Fern Mallis Fills Us In On Her New Book ‘Fashion Icons 2’

by Eddie Roche
Fern Mallis

Fern Mallis might want to consider party promoting as her next act because she brought some crowd to Nordstrom NYC ‘s Broadway Bar last week. Martha Stewart, Stefano Tonchi, Rickie De Sole, Bethann Hardison, Arthur Elgort, Ken Downing, Jack McCollough, Lazaro Hernandez, Nicole Miller, and Tim Gunn are a few of the faces who came out to celebrate her new book Fashion Icons 2. The collection features Mallis’ conversations with some of the biggest names in fashion such as Valentino, Victoria Beckham and Leonard Lauder. 

Fashion’s Fairy Godmother tells us what to expect from her latest conversations and how you can get your hands on an exclusive box set of the first and second volumes.

Fashion Icons 2 is filled with 15 of the conversations from your Fashion Icons series. Who were some of the dishiest and fascinating Fashion Icons we’ll be reading about in this book?
It is hard to stay who gave the “dishiest” interview in Fashion Icons 2. There is no better moment than when one of my Fashion Icons starts a story with, “I’ve never told this to anyone before….” Nothing tops my conversation with Mr. Valentino. As we talked about his family and his upbringing, he became so candid about his early struggles to break into the fashion world. In the middle of our conversation, he turned to me to say, “Never in my life have I said so many things like tonight. I’m going to tell you which underwear I am wearing.” I responded by saying, “tell us.”

I remember Bill Cunningham was hard to lock down in the past. Who was the toughest person to book this time?
Booking any Fashion Icon takes a lot of patience and coordination. Many of them are still working and dominating in their field. Billy Porter went straight from our conversation at the 92nd Street Y, to perform at a sold-out concert at Carnegie Hall with Idina Menzel! Leonard Lauder took over two years to get to the 92nd Street Y stage. He was still serving on the board of the Estee Lauder Companies. I had to enlist the help of a dear friend of mine, Jane Hertzmark Hudis, the Group President of the Estee Lauder Companies, to keep my request at the top of his list. Not only is Jane one of Mr. Lauder’s proteges, she was my first assistant when I started my own PR firm.

It was worth the wait. LAL, as he is called by those in the know, told us about growing-up with Estee, his first business (a film club) while still an undergraduate at University of Pennsylvania, and why he hires so many women in leadership roles. When we were done with our conversation, he turned to me and said, “we should take this on the road!” If the offer still stands LAL, I am available.

Who was the most candid?
Many of the Fashion Icons tell me after our conversations, that they almost forgot that they were in front of an audience. After all, many of them are my friends. We have a shared history. We have a trust. This has led to many unscripted, authentic, and intimate revelations. I will never forget Tim Gunn candidly talking about his suicide attempt in high school. There was not a dry eye in the theatre as he shared his personal struggle and pain. Here was a man, beloved by so many from his time on television and as a Dean at one of the most prestigious Fashion programs, opening up about something so personal. He did not share his story to be provocative. It was a story of hope and survival. Thanks to an amazing doctor at Yale New Haven hospital, Dr. Goldblatt, he found the help he needed to overcome his challenges. I will never forget that doctor’s name.

The book also features some incredible photography. How did you find the images featured?  
Finding the right photographs is the greatest challenge for curating this book series. I start by asking each Fashion Icon for the “photographs in the shoe box under the bed.” This is not an easy ask. It almost always ends with the Fashion Icon asking their mom to look for photos. That was the case with Victoria Beckham. Victoria shared how her father drove her to school in a Rolls Royce. She was so embarrassed by it that she made him drop her off blocks away. Thanks to her mother, we have a photo of Victoria and that Rolls Royce in Fashion Icons 2.

We also spend a lot of time in the archives of the major magazines and photographers. In Bethann Hardison’s chapter, we have photos from a test shoot she did in Central Park long before she became a model. It just so happens, they were taken by fellow Fashion Icon Bruce Weber. Bruce and Bethann both mentioned that shoot in their conversations with me. I knew I had to track them down and include them in the book.

Fern Mallis, Bethann Hardison

Why was it important for you to publish this book?
I hope readers recognize how my conversations are about more than a season’s collection or a name on a label. This is the reader’s chance to hear the Fashion Icons share their own stories, in their own voice: How did they become who they are? How did they build their business? How did they find the determination to overcome challenges and persevere?

My series is often called a “masterclass” on how to make it in the fashion industry. In my pandemic quarantine, I rewatched the Fashion Icons conversations and kept hearing the same themes emerge. They were stories of successes, struggles, and the power of re-invention. The pandemic made sharing these stories more relevant than ever. While the rest of other world baked sourdough bread, I wrote a book.

Arthur Elgort, Fern Mallis (BFA)

You are partnering up with Nordstrom for an exclusive box set of the first and second volumes of Fashion Icons. Is there anything new we can expect from this set?
I’m so proud to be partnering with the artist Ruben Baghdasaryan. His paintings are featured prominently in the new edition of Fashion Icons 1 and 2. I first discovered his work on Mr. Valentino’s Instagram and was blown away by his ability to capture the essence and the passion of each Fashion Icon. His portraits are featured in the wraparound cover of Nordstrom’s exclusive box set. Ruben has accompanied me to two New York Fashion Weeks. I love witnessing his reaction to sharing his work with many of the Fashion Icons he has painted for my books. When Ruben first met Christian Siriano backstage, Christian pointed at him and said, “I know you! I love your work.”

Fern Mallis (BFA)

What else are you up to these days? Who is coming to Fashion Icons next?
There is no such thing as a “day off” in the world of Fashion Icons, now in its eleventh year. Can you believe that I have hosted 61 Fashion Icons? It is now one of the longest-running ongoing programs at the 92nd Street Y. This series has grown far beyond what I could have imagined when I first took to the stage with Norma Kamali in 2011.

We are already curating the names for the Fall season of Fashion Icons at the 92nd Street Y. This Spring, we featured women leaders in Beauty and Fashion: Bobbi Brown, Christy Turlington Burns, and Dee Ocleppo-Hilfiger. Dee’s husband Tommy Hilfiger made his return appearance. In the fall, you may see some other familiar faces return to the 92nd Street Y stage.

I am so proud of the Fashion Icons conversation series, the books, and my latest project: a Fashion Icons streaming series with critically acclaimed documentary producer Jonathan Gray (Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel). We are taking the original conversations and enhancing them with archival footage and photographs, just like in the book series. Thanks to the help of Jonathan and his team at Peaceable Assembly, streaming these conversations will soon become a reality.

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