FERN MALLIS

FERN MALLIS

BORN TO RUNWAY

Author, lecturer, and former Council of Fashion Designers of America executive director Fern Mallis remembers the birth of New York Fashion Week as we know it.

Linda Evangelista, Cindy Crawford, and Naomi Campbell walk the Versace runway in 1991, the year after plans for the modern-day NYFW were set in motion, photograph by Rex Features

In 1993, [the first official] New York Fashion Week was organized partially in response to an accident at a 1990 Michael Kors show:

the ceiling plaster collapsed.

The bass music came on as all the one-name supermodels — CINDY [Crawford], LINDA [Evangelista], and NAOMI [Campbell] — took the runway, and chunks of the plaster fell down and landed in the laps of Carrie Donovan and Suzy Menkes, then editors at The New York Times and the International Herald Tribune.

Journalist Suzy Menkes amidst the fallen ceiling plaster at Michael Kors’s runway show, photograph by George Chinsee

‘We live for fashion, but we don’t want to die for it’ became the mantra.

I had just been hired as executive director of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, and it became my mission to find a safe place to present the collections.

Bryant Park made sense: it was the backyard of the fashion industry, close to the garment center, and a centralized location in Manhattan.

We weren’t allowed on the grass at the time, so there were a couple of long, narrow tents that ran north to south along the park, parallel to Sixth Avenue, and a third venue inside the New York Public Library.

 

Inside one of NYFW’s tents at Bryant Park, photograph by Brian Ach

Sixty designers showed. Seeing the tents come together was a collective dream come true. I remember the first walk-through of the space as the lighting was rigged up, and the first soundcheck.

The music just blasted, and we all looked at each other and got chills.

It was really exciting, and the first-ever event of that magnitude in the fashion industry.

— as told to The Thick

Did you see? Model Gemma Ward takes The Thick Questionnaire, Candy Pratts Price & Peggy Healy Parker debate the true definition of luxury.

 

Outside the tents at Bryant Park during NYFW, photograph by Stuart Ramson