The transcript from this week’s MIB: Fern Mallis, Fashion Icon, is below.
You can stream/download the full conversation, including the podcast extras on iTunes, Bloomberg, Overcast, and Stitcher. Our earlier podcasts can all be found at iTunes, Stitcher, Overcast, and Bloomberg.
This is Masters in Business with Barry Ritholtz on Bloomberg Radio.
BARRY RITHOLTZ, HOST, MASTERS IN BUSINESS: This week on the podcast, I have an extra special guest. Her name is Fern Mallis and if you are at all interested in fashion, clothing, retail or any of the things related to that, you’ll find this conversation especially interesting. I wish I would’ve had more time. I wanted to ask her about some of the changes in the industry, etc., etc.
But I think you’ll find this to be really interesting and fascinating conversation. So with no further ado, my interview with Fern Mallis.
My special guest today is Fern Mallis. She is the president of fashion and design consultancy Fern Mallis, LLC. Previously, she was the executive director of the Council of Fashion Designers of America where she has been awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award as well as all other such awards from Pratt Institute and the Fashion Institute of Technology better known as FIT. She is the creator of Fashion Week in New York. Fern Mallis, welcome to Bloomberg.
FERN MALLIS, PRESIDENT, FERN MALLIS LLC: Thank you, Barry. I’m happy to be here.
RITHOLTZ: So, let’s talk a little bit about your background in fashion. Is this an area you are always interested in and how did you break in to the field?
MALLIS: Yes, I guess you could say I was always interested in it. I grew up in Brooklyn. My dad worked in the Garment Center. And his brothers worked there as well.
My dad was in accessories, scarves, primarily. And the uncles were in textiles and in sportswear. So …
RITHOLTZ: Family business?
MALLIS: I grew up in going with him to work every time I could, every day off from school to the Garment District when it was a bustling hustling place. All those carts on the street and all those people who knew each other. And I learned and I watched and I loved it. And I loved clothing.
RITHOLTZ: So, what was your first job? Were you working not for a family member?
MALLIS: Well, I never worked for a family member, luckily. I just grew up surrounded by them and learned about the industry …
RITHOLTZ: Apprentice ... (CROSSTALK)
MALLIS: … assimilating. But my early jobs in high school, my summer jobs were simplicity patterns which was a big deal at that time when people used to make their own clothes and in a department store due — if you remember the name Ohrbach’s?
MALLIS: On 34th Street. I worked in Ohrbach’s one summer.
RITHOLTZ: Yes. I kind of remember right off at Route 4 in New Jersey.
MALLIS: They eventually — they did expand and then they can shut down like everyone else.
MALLIS: But those were my first jobs in — while I was in school. But then my first real job was at “Mademoiselle” magazine at Condé Nast.
RITHOLTZ: So, what you do for “Mademoiselle”?
MALLIS: Well, I actually — that’s how my career really start. I won a contest. I was a “Mademoiselle” guest editor which was a very big deal when I was growing up. They picked 20 students from around the country to guest edit their college issue, to come to New York for a month.
Today, it would be a reality TV show with 20 girls out to kill each other in some apartment to get the job or the boyfriend.
MALLIS: And it was an extraordinary experience. Sylvia Plath was a guest editor, Ali MacGraw, Betsey Johnson, all before me.
RITHOLTZ: And before they were famous?
MALLIS: Way before. When they were in college getting in — getting in the junior senior year of college. And I was at the University of Buffalo, came back, and did my guest editorship. And then I was the only one of my 20 in that group that was asked to stay on at the magazine, the full-time job.
RITHOLTZ: So, what did you do with the magazine going forward after that?
MALLIS: Going forward, I was in the college competitions area and then merchandising and marketing. But in the college comp area, it was very interesting because we’re talking 1970, ’71. I graduated in ’69. I’m being revealing my age if people do the math.
MALLIS: But it was when the world was coming apart. It was the Vietnam War.
MALLIS: It was craziness. And so, going to college campuses to talk about a fashion magazine. And “Mademoiselle” was more than a fashion magazine. It was really the thinking woman’s magazine and it’s time. It was one of the best folks in the Condé Nast stable.
RITHOLTZ: So, you started post-fringe but pre-polyester? Is that a fair …
MALLIS: Yes. You could say that.
And it was a great experience. And then when I moved into the merchandising area, I in my 20s, was traveling to every single country state in the country going to department stores when they all had regional names and identities before they were all bought by Macy’s and doing store events, bringing the magazine to life. It was a great experience.
RITHOLTZ: So, how did you go from working for a magazine to setting up your own consultancy? What was in between that?
MALLIS: There were several things in between that including working for Gimbels East as fashion director, an uptown store when that was there. I worked on 7th Avenue for a short time. I hated that side of the business.
RITHOLTZ: Why? What was — what was the problem with that? MALLIS: I like …
RITHOLTZ: Was the nitty gritty not the actual fashion side or …
MALLIS: No, I didn’t like selling. I like being the one people wanted to come to. It just wasn’t the right fit for me. But eventually, I opened up a PR firm and I basically did that because I thought I had 411 on my forehead. Everybody would call me for where do I get this? How do I get that? Can you connect me with this? Can you — I was like — what am I? Central booking information here?
And I realized I could get paid for that information. So, I opened up the PR firm in my friend’s offices who are architects and interior designers.
MALLIS: And at the time, to place it contextually, they were designing Studio 54.
MALLIS: So, that was a fun, heady time to be around them. And I … RITHOLTZ: This is mid to late ’70s now?
MALLIS: Yes. And we — I had a PR firm and I started representing — the first one was a fashion client, it was Charivari, store that was very famous on the west side. Selma Wiser (ph) and a few other fashion friends.
And then it shifted to our architecture and interior design and representing all the major furniture companies and textile companies. Because I love that world. I love the whole design world, how it all
connects in lifestyle. And I then ran — left that to join one of my clients, which was the IDCNY. International Design Center New York in Long Island City. It’s right over the bridge. It was an extraordinary project, building a million square feet of showrooms for the interior furnishings industry.
And we helped build that. And I was very much involved in that working with IM Pei and Partners and …
MALLIS: Gwathmey Siegel and IM and the Vignellis who did the graphics. It was the wonderful time in my life.
RITHOLTZ: IDC opens a building in New York now, didn’t they? MALLIS: No. They …
RITHOLTZ: What am I thinking of? It’s either the decorator and design building?
MALLIS: Well, yes, there are several design buildings in New York. RITHOLTZ: But it’s not IDC related.
MALLIS: No, it’s not IDC. IDC was competition to all those buildings …
RITHOLTZ: Got it.
MALLIS: In Long Island City and people were very nervous that everybody was going to go to over the bridge.
RITHOLTZ: How did that work out?
MALLIS: It didn’t work out. Going over the bridge in New York, if you’re …
MALLIS: If you’re not going to the airport or going home, you don’t cross the water. I mean in Chicago, Paris, everywhere else, you cross the water all day long.
RITHOLTZ: Right. No one thinks twice about it.
MALLIS: In Chicago. But New York, it didn’t work. And we had — they were closing lanes of the bridge all the time.
RITHOLTZ: I recall that. MALLIS: And they really screwed it up. RITHOLTZ: Did they?
MALLIS: Big time. It was a multimillion dollar complex and it still is one of the most extraordinary set of buildings, the old factories
that were retrofitted to design showrooms the best architects in the world design them all.
RITHOLTZ: And now that whole area is hot as a pistol.
MALLIS: Now …
RITHOLTZ: That was pre-Amazon ...
MALLIS: Are you kidding? Now, if I wish when I was there that I bought property in Long Island City big time.
RITHOLTZ: Before Amazon ...
MALLIS: Way before Amazon.
RITHOLTZ: ... they were building huge. Now ...
MALLIS: The Citibank was the first building that went out there.
RITHOLTZ: That’s right. That’s exactly right.
MALLIS: That was — we thought, OK, when’s the rest of this going to happen but …
RITHOLTZ: It took a long, long time. By the way, you mentioned department stores that are no longer with us. Let’s test your memory. We’re standing in a building or sitting in a building?
RITHOLTZ: Alexander’s. That’s exactly right. By the way, Alexander’s is the store I was thinking of on Route 4 that had the giant — was it a Calder or was it a giant piece of artwork on the outside of the building?
MALLIS: That I don’t remember.
RITHOLTZ: On Route 4, I want to say just past Hackensack, but I was a kid way then.
MALLIS: I don’t go Route 4. I'm not ...
RITHOLTZ: You don’t — right. Bridge and tunnels. You never leave Manhattan unless you go to into the Hamptons. That’s the — not too — or an airport.
So, let’s talk about before fashion week. What was the state of the fashion industry before this event existed?
MALLIS: Well, before fashion week was formally created and organized, centralized, and modernized which is what I like to say we did, there were fashion shows. I mean, the industry had its biannual timetable to get its collections out in front of buyers. But it was a very, very exclusive insider event. If you weren’t in the industry, you didn’t know about it. If you went by building on 7th Avenue, you might think what’s going on if there’s a line outside getting in or something.
MALLIS: If there were 50 shows, they were in 50 different locations and nobody talk to each other. It was uptown, downtown, midtown. If somebody had a show in the Pierre Hotel in the morning, they’d have to take everything down in the afternoon because somebody had a bar mitzvah there that night. And then somebody wanted to rent it again the next day and put it all back in there.
It was a bit chaotic. Sounds complicated and expensive also. And it was complicated expensive and it was — it was at a time when the American designers weren’t really well known in reaching out to Europe. The biggest European expansion was Calvin Klein, may be doing fragrance.
RITHOLTZ: So, I’m glad you brought that up. Because now, perspective on this is colored by pop culture and movies like the “Devil Wears Prada.” But you very much get the sense that both Paris and Milan were much more structured and organized or is that just pop culture?
MALLIS: No, that’s the truth. Paris and Milan were the — that’s where it was. That’s what it was about. London, a little bit. New York was a somewhat of an afterthought.
MALLIS: New York was treated as their last on the calendar. They’re waiting to see what we do in Europe and they’re going to copy us and it was crazy. So, I had just been hired. This is back in ’91. I was selected as the executive director the CFDA after they did a very long search, after I left the design universe of IDCNY and all of that.
MALLIS: And there was this little organization, the CFDA which had done a big AIDS benefit called 7th on Sale. And that’s when I got involved with them. And I was hired as their executive director. It was March of ’91 and I believe that — I don’t remember it exactly. I was hired at the end of March. I didn’t start till mid-April. There was a market week fashion week, in between.
Michael Kors had a had a show on an empty loft space in Chelsea and when you turn the bass music on in a space for a fashion show, it’s very loud and if things are nailed down, they tend to tremble. Well, the ceiling trembled. And plaster started falling off from the ceiling, and the ceiling literally was falling down the runway.
RITHOLTZ: He brought the roof down.
MALLIS: Well, there you go. He brought the roof down.
And plaster was on the shoulders of Naomi and Cindy and Linda and all the one-named supermodels of the day. But when — but they kept walking.
MALLIS: But when it landed in the laps of Suzy Menkes from the “International Herald Tribune,” Carrie Donovan, the Fashion Critic at the “New York Times,” they wrote the next day. We live for fashion. We don’t want to die for it.
RITHOLTZ: That’s very funny.
MALLIS: And I looked at all that and I said I think my job description just changed. And it — my job then started immediately when I got there to figure out a way to do safe sound, places for the American designers to do their runway shows.
RITHOLTZ: So, the concept was let’s get all these together in one place, one location, one week, make it safe, make it accessible, make it more reasonable and more efficient …
MALLIS: Yes. Amortize the cost for everybody and …
RITHOLTZ: And so how did you end up finding a way to Bryant Park which if we talking ’91, Bryant Park was still …
MALLIS: Still a little seedy.
RITHOLTZ: Yes. On the edge.
MALLIS: But it was on — it was in the last throes of its renovation. RITHOLTZ: And for people …
MALLIS: The restaurant wasn’t there …
RITHOLTZ: Right. For people who are not familiar with this, Bryant Park is basically the full city block behind the New York Public Library in the ’60s ’70s ’80s. It was very much a haven for drugs in prime …
MALLIS: Needle Park.
RITHOLTZ: Right. Needle Park. And I used to visit my dad’s office on Madison Avenue. We would say, if you’re coming by train, don’t go up 40th Street.
RITHOLTZ: And now my office space is on 40th Street which is pretty amazing.
MALLIS: It’s one of the most beautiful urban renovations ever.
RITHOLTZ: A gem. A jewel of the city.
MALLIS: It is a very, very special place. And the lawn there was — it was like the backyard to the Garment Center because it was a block away from 7th Avenue, Broadway, where all the showrooms where.
MALLIS: It was walking distance everything. There was lots of public transportation and subways, block away from Times Square two blocks from Grand Central. I mean, you don’t get a better …
RITHOLTZ: Perfectly located ... MALLIS: ... location that Bryant Park.
RITHOLTZ: Absolutely. It’s pretty much smack dab in the center of the city. You can get to it from anywhere easily.
MALLIS: Yes. And so, we began — my job became find a place. So, I was riding around New York. I’d look at every empty pier, every …
MALLIS: … big parking lot. We put tents up here. How big can we do this?
Stan Herman, who was the President of the CFDA, office is actually on the corner of 40th and 6th overlooking Bryant Park. And he was on the board of the — the community board there and work closely with Dan Biederman who I know you’ve interviewed?
RITHOLTZ: Right. He helped you …
MALLIS: He ran the bid for the Bryant Park.
RITHOLTZ: This is improvement district.
MALLIS: And we wound up, eventually, making a deal with Dan and Bryant
Park. It it there.
RITHOLTZ: seen this
was, literally, the backyard to the industry. People loved
And I used to — again, for people who may not have actually and you could find time lapse photography about it …
MALLIS: Yes. It's pretty impressive.
RITHOLTZ: The park goes from this big open space that’s, I don’t know, let’s call it half a city block and that’s the lawn. And suddenly, a giant set of tents go up and a little city. Now, what they do is in the winter there’s an ice-skating rink and a lodge that’s temporary within …
MALLIS: And lots of little shops.
RITHOLTZ: Right. Well, they disappeared January 15th. So, they’re gone already. But you still have urban space there and you still have the ice-skating rink. But if you watched fashion week show up, it was an amazing bit of logistics to build it and then you could go see the video and you don’t really — you — it’s hard to imagine that this is a temporary space when you see the images from the fashion show. It always looks amazing.
So, how — what was it like setting up the first one? It was pretty extraordinary. I mean, we had started first at the Macklowe Hotel which was the — then became the Millennial Hotel, just to see if we can get more than three designers to do something together because their egos are such that nobody want to do anything in the same space.
But they realize ...
RITHOLTZ: Is that a real genuine problem when you try to coordinate this?
MALLIS: That was a problem at the beginning. Absolutely.
RITHOLTZ: Who is first? Is there jockeying best slots and everything?
MALLIS: God, yes. Absolutely. It’s the war room with the slots and moving posted surround till you got this calendar that work.
RITHOLTZ: See, that’s the wedding where, also, it’s a pricey stuff and you had a deal with that with much better egos.
MALLIS: Yes. You could say that?
But they understood at the beginning that this was going to — if this is going work, we all have to do it together. So, the first seasons, we did have Calvin Klein in the tents and Donna Karan and Ralph Lauren who eventually those designers moved out to do their own thing which was fine, but it helped get this off the ground. We invited all the European press and buyers to come. And it changed the world and it change the fashion industry.
RITHOLTZ: How long did it take before you realized, hey, we have something here.
MALLIS: It didn’t take long at all. It happened very quickly. And it — I’m extremely proud of what that meant to these people and to the industry and to our city and our culture. But that first season, that first sound check, when the music really went blasting, goosebumps all over.
You just couldn’t believe it was really happening. We did a ribbon- cutting with Mayor Dinkins’ wife.
RITHOLTZ: Let’s talk a little bit about the business of fashion because after all, it is a business whose purpose is to sell products to consumers. How do you look at the world of fast fashion? After this a show in Paris and Milan, it seems to weeks later their cheap knockoffs from china hanging on the racks in the U.S. Is this a good thing? Is this a bad thing? How do we think about this?
MALLIS: Well, it depends on who you are. If you’re a consumer who wants to buy something really fast and of the moment and that’s really inexpensive, it’s a great thing. If you’re a designer and a company with integrity who plays by the rules of time and place and making something and putting out a quality product, it’s not such good thing.
If you’re into sustainable fashion in the industry, it’s not such a good thing because there’s a ton of stuff that’s being made that is filling landfills.
MALLIS: There are a lot of problems. But fast fashion has woken up a lot of people. I mean, the H&Ms of the world and Top Shop and Zaras and what have you.
But the customer who’s buying that is not the customer who’s buying really designer clothes. People know the difference.
MALLIS: The luxury business right now is doing very well, the LVMHs, the Louis Vuitton, Channel.
RITHOLTZ: I never really thought of fast fashion as a threat to the — your aspirational luxury or full-on luxury, but I do look at e-commerce and everything being online as well as things like Rent the Runway and pret-a-porter as potentially satisfying some of the demand for those products, how does the industry look at either e-commerce or high-end preowned or even rentable fashion?
MALLIS: I think those are all different aspects of the industry that have evolved over the years. I think Rent the Runway is a brilliant business. Jennifer Hyman started — I worked with her at IMG. We were there at the same time.
It’s quite remarkable. The rental business period is becoming a big, big business because people — it’s all so sustainable. Also you don’t need to buy the stuff, you don’t need to own it in your closet. All of that is great.
But e-commerce is very much a part of everybody’s business even though the highest and luxury people. Everybody’s available on e-commerce one way or another, whether is their own site or they’re part of MatchesFashion or Net-a-Porte or some of the very big conglomerates — what the word I’m thinking — who put all of the different looks together, Farfetch, too, has all the different stores on it.
I mean, the e-commerce, the online business is enormous. This holiday season, it was huge. And what that is hurting more than anything is the retail experience.
So, it’s forcing stores, again, at least smart stores, to rethink what they’re doing and to create and experience to make shopping matter again. I mean, it’s very sad if you look — walk around New York and you see all the for rent signs. Lord &Taylor just closed down.
RITHOLTZ: Just the headquarters. MALLIS: Now ... RITHOLTZ: The New York store. Yes. RITHOLTZ: Right.
MALLIS: But that still was an iconic New York store. RITHOLTZ: Sure.
MALLIS: The Versace store is closing on 5th Avenue. There’s all sorts of stores going out everywhere. The Gap store is closing on 5th Avenue.
But retailers are looking at creating experiences again. I know Saks Fifth Avenue’s going under major renovation. It moved accessories up and handbags down and cosmetics at another sect — up to another floor. They’ve just bringing in a very fancy restaurant from France, the Avenue.
They’re trying to create reasons for people to come back in to the stores and I think that’s a good thing. And e-commerce companies like Rent the Runway have begun to open retail outposts.
MALLIS: So, they’re still — there are still people like going to a place and seeing it, trying it on, and having that experience.
RITHOLTZ: I previously had a conversation with Barbara Kahn who’s a professor at Wharton and she was telling us about some of the new technology that’s come in where, you know when you shop at Amazon, they have this huge informational advantage. If you click this, well, we could tell you what everybody else looked at. These are the three most popular ingredients of — or objects or items, not ingredients.
These are the three most popular items for other people who bought this. What Professor Kahn was saying is you could — they’re using RF radio tags and a smart mirror. And when you bring in item in certain stores into the dressing room, the mirror will act very similar to the way Amazon did and said people who looked at this item also looked at this belt, this scarf, this accessory. And not only are they getting a higher percentage of sales, but they’re also getting a higher percentage of add-ons and other things which is a long-winded way of asking what is the role of technology in fashion.
MALLIS: It’s a huge part of the fashion industry, it’s a huge part of every industry. I mean, technology has changed the way we do everything. That’s a little bit of big brother watching you, in a way, and it’s a little bit scary some days. If you just look at something online, the next time you open up your computer, 10 sites jump in your face.
MALLIS: Where you’re looking for a tote bag, here — whatever. It’s invasive. It is scary.
RITHOLTZ: That’s a generational thing. You and I hate that, younger folks, they could care less about it. P.S., I’ve discovered that log out of Facebook while I’m online, that sort of stuff happens much less. Because Facebook tracks everything you do on Facebook, off Facebook and
they’re the ones who are serving you a lot of that stuff. Just make a note of that.
MALLIS: So, I guess I should be happy that I’ve been hacked on Facebook, like six, seven months ago, and I can’t get back on. No matter what I’ve tried, everything, connecting with everybody under the sun, and I’ve to two pages, a verified one and a personal one and I can’t …
RITHOLTZ: They hacked both of them?
MALLIS: I cannot log on to Facebook. I get messages all day long from people on emails so-and-so commented on — I said I can’t see any of it.
So, if anybody's listening from Facebook ... RITHOLTZ: Zuck, come on. Let's get on this. MALLIS: Please tell me how to get -- I'm ... RITHOLTZ: This is Fern Mallis.
MALLIS: You’re looking a good customer here. I’d like to be back on.
RITHOLTZ: Well, we’ll forward this to someone there and make sure they — if it was Twitter, I could help you. I have no contacts that — actually, that’s not true. I do have contacts at Facebook but I don’t know if I can help you with it.
After I slugged them constantly about being such a … MALLIS: We’ll say something nice about Facebook.
RITHOLTZ: So, let’s — we’ve talked about e-commerce. This raises a really interesting question.
Is fashion and clothing the sort of thing that people are always going to go into a store for or can you — will we eventually get to the point where the stores become virtual and people don’t have to go physically shopping?
MALLIS: No, that will never happen.
RITHOLTZ: That’s your forecast?
MALLIS: That’s never going to happen.
RITHOLTZ: Stores are going to persist. They can adapt …
MALLIS: Store is — they’re — the smart ones will adapt
evolve as any smart business. But I think you still want
and touch and feel. And if you can make the experience unique and service be an important of it, I mean, I’m a little nervous in New York, in a few months, there’s a new Neiman Marcus that’s going to open up in the city and a Nordstrom’s in this year.
and inch and to go and see
I mean, those are two ... RITHOLTZ: Giants.
MALLIS: Serious department stores opening in New York City in a time when people are just nervous about shopping and going to stores.
RITHOLTZ: Are we saturated with big department stores in New York City?
MALLIS: No, I don’t think we are at all. That’s why I think this is going to be interesting, having the two of them open. But it’s going to be interesting. That’s — I don’t want to pass judgment, I don’t want to predict. We’ll see. Nordstrom’s is new to New York. I mean …
MALLIS: … it’s the men’s store that opened first but that’s — has a very different culture and Neiman Marcus is going to Hudson Yards. And that’s going to be interesting. It’s not a place with a lot of foot traffic, yet — not yet anyway.
RITHOLTZ: It’s going to be a destination, although it is certainly between the high line and everything else that’s over there, there’s certainly a tone of tourist attraction making its way near the Hudson Yards. It’s really not all that far away from that.
You mentioned Nordstrom. I know Nordstrom in Suburbia from Nordstrom Rack, how do you — although that’s not true because I’ve gone to the Nordstrom that is in — is it Roosevelt field? I don’t go to malls so I don’t remember.
But I’ve been in Nordstrom’s and Nordstrom rack which raises the question what you think about the sort of outlet center shopping that has blown up over the past, I don’t know, 20 years? For a while, I think this still happens in New York.
The tourist would get on a bus and drive an hour and a half north to go to the giant outlet center that’s up in — just north of White Plains.
MALLIS: I know. I'm trying to think of ... RITHOLTZ: Woodbury Commons. MALLIS: Woodbury Commons. Yes.
RITHOLTZ: And it took me a while to access that. But I literally — bus loads of people go up there to go shopping, is that a viable business? Is it the same clothes that you see in the main stores? What are your thoughts about outlets?
>It’s definitely a viable business and Woodbury Commons is quite phenomenal. I mean, the amount of stores they have and they create those shopping cities …
RITHOLTZ: Destinations, right? Yes.
MALLIS: … to replicate the headquarter store so it’s not just a bunch of racks close somewhere, you feel like you’re in a Burberry. You feel like you’re in a Barney’s or whatever’s up there.
RITHOLTZ: It’s high-end names, too. It’s not just …
MALLIS: It’s high-end names but it’s not the same merchandise that you can find in the current lines. It’s generally season or its — and in many cases, there’s a separate business. Companies make stuff with outlet stores. They make other lines that you can even buy anywhere else so that they are lower price.
I don’t think those customers getting on the buses at … RITHOLTZ: The big hotels in the city?
MALLIS: At the — what’s the bus term? Across the streets from the Times, that’s called the bus terminal.
RITHOLTZ: Port authority. MALLIS: Port authority. Thank you.
They are busloads of people. Like you say, tourists and a lot of Asians, fill up those buses and go there. They marked to people …
RITHOLTZ: So, tourists come here from China and Japan and elsewhere and part of the week or two they spend in the United States is a bus pulls up in front of the hotel as part of their vacation and they go up to the Woodbury outlet centers to do shopping?
MALLIS: That’s what my understanding is. I was up there years and years ago, in fact, to do a radio show for WOR with Joan Hamburg a few years ago. We did it from Woodbury Commons. And it always intrigues me that I should go there, but I …
RITHOLTZ: Got to cross the bridge. Got to cross the water and we know you won’t do. Airport and Hamptons. We go that.
MALLIS: So, let’s talk a little bit about the power of brands. How important are brands whether it’s a designer, a manufacturer, or a retailer? Do brands still carry the same cachet and power that they used to?
RITHOLTZ: Well, that depends on the brand. I mean, the sneak — the biggest thing in the world now is sneakers. Whether it’s Nike, Adidas, whomever.
RITHOLTZ: I notice you’re wearing a pair of Yeezys. From Kanye …
MALLIS: I am not wearing Yeezys. Get out of here. When you have nothing else to do, Google Fern Mallis and Kanye West.
RITHOLTZ: Trust me, that’s why I brought that up. I know you guys have had a falling out and a reconciliation and …
MALLIS: Well, we just had a little ...
RITHOLTZ: Brouhaha. MALLIS: Yes. A brouhaha. No skirmish.
RITHOLTZ: And I purposely did not wear my — I’m a sneakerhead and I purposely did not wear anything today.
MALLIS: Those are very cool ...
RITHOLTZ: Well, these are ...
MALLIS: But they're kind of like a sneaker.
RITHOLTZ: Yes. These are Allbirds. They’re wool. They’re kind of funky, online things. But …
MALLIS: But brands — but brands matter to some people. Some people are very brand conscious. I mean, the phenomena of supreme, having a name on something in a line outside that store.
RITHOLTZ: It's crazy.
MALLIS: But what seems to be resonating more with people now are brands and companies that stand for something and give back and have a moral purpose for existing, people are really looking for some attachment to a company and why they’re doing certain things. Like when Nike did took their stand with Kaepernick.
RITHOLTZ: Colin Kaepernick.
MALLIS: I mean …
RITHOLTZ: Can I push back on you with that? MALLIS: Sure, push me back.
RITHOLTZ: And then we’ll talk about Gillette. MALLIS: Yes.
RITHOLTZ: So, think about the people who are pro and con Colin Kaepernick. The people who are all up and arms over them taking a knee, they’re red state folks, they’re lower disposable income folks, they’re older. That’s not Nike’s core demographic.
Nike’s core demographic are young, hip, I mean, I think the number was 75% of their sales, ones — people who are under 35.
MALLIS: But the business went through the roof after that.
RITHOLTZ: It was a genius — it was the best marketing moments of 2018. It was totally insightful.
MALLIS: But then it was emotional. It was the right thing to do. RITHOLTZ: Sure.
MALLIS: And that’s what resonates with the brand when they do that. That’s when you really want to support a company.
RITHOLTZ: So, now, we’re recording this the day after Nike did their big release about their sneakers that lace up automatically for $360. I haven’t seen them yet, but it was all over the press.
MALLIS: How do I missed that? RITHOLTZ: Yesterday -- "Wired," "Verge"...
MALLIS: So, you get your automatic lace-up sneakers and go in your driverless car, right?
RITHOLTZ: Right. So, you have a button over here, you can loosen it or tighten it and there’s also, what makes it so interesting, is it comes with an app for your phone that tracks your activity, your calories burn, your miles, all that stuff.
So, it’s a smart sneaker, not just a self-lacing sneaker and if you’re engaging in sports, this wasn’t supposed to be an ad for Nike, but I’ll speak to Phil Knight whatever he wants. When you move and play sport, the sneaker actually adapts to what you’re doing to provide better support and the technology …
MALLIS: That’s crazy.
RITHOLTZ: Well, think about the first time you tried on a dri-fit shirt where they — that wicks the water away, if you’re — you mentioned Dinkins playing tennis, if you’ve ever played a support where you’re just drenched and your clothes stick to you and it’s so disgusting …
MALLIS: So, the technology is brilliant. RITHOLTZ: It's amazing. MALLIS: ... for textiles and ... RITHOLTZ: It really is just fascinating.
So, back to brands. Brands that are innovative and pushing the envelope and stand for something, you’re telling us this really makes a difference.
MALLIS: It resonates. Yes.
RITHOLTZ: What about — have you seen the Gillette ad about … MALLIS: I saw some of the brouhaha on that.
RITHOLTZ: I’m a — now, maybe I’m just a New York liberal, East Coast socialist summer camps, the line from the Woody Allen movie, I watched that ad, I’m like I understand what the — hey, don’t let your kids bully other kids.
MALLIS: What did they complain about?
RITHOLTZ: Well, apparently, we’re on our little Manhattan Island bubble so we see the world differently than some other folks.
MALLIS: Well, I hope they stay with that because I think that kind of advertising marketing is brilliant. I mean, we need more of that everywhere. That universe needs to get those messages out.
RITHOLTZ: So, when you stop and think about it, whether you — whether you’re a snowflake who’s triggered by one of these things, or you think it’s fine or anything in between, if you just think about it from an advertising and marketing perspective, we’re talking about Gillette and that’s a win for them.
RITHOLTZ: Everything is so saturated and cluttered to break through is not easy to do.
MALLIS: You’re absolutely right. So, bravo to these companies who are doing that.
RITHOLTZ: Let’s, for now, stick with the business of fashion and what sort of changes are coming our way? You mention issues and retelling and we talked earlier about fast fashion, what other changes do you see coming to this industry?
MALLIS: Some of the things that I see on the horizon are a lot of designers and a lot of people doing what — we want to call genderless fashion. Clothing that is designed for a man or woman. There’s a lot of that starting to happen.
RITHOLTZ: Really? I’ve seen that with sneakers. What else is genderless?
MALLIS: Sweaters, tops, pants. I mean ... RITHOLTZ: Really? Aren't the ... MALLIS: What make it ... RITHOLTZ: ... the fits different?
MALLIS: Well, it depends on how it’s designed. There’s a lot of that happening now and I think it’s really interesting. There’s a lot of seasonless clothing that is year-round because of the technology and textiles and the layering of clothing. There’s also a lot more size inclusivity happening where …
RITHOLTZ: What does that mean? Define that.
MALLIS: For many years, all the good brands and designer clothes you’d buy would — if I’m talking women now, you go up to maybe a size 12, maybe a 14.
MALLIS: Now, they’re going up to all the plus sizes being included and creating collections for big girls and people who are not model size zero and two, four, six. I mean, that’s a huge — I think 14 or 16 is the biggest size in America of the most people and most designers don’t even address that.
RITHOLTZ: You mentioned plus size models. That seems to be a very growing …
MALLIS: That’s a big part of fashion week now when you see it and advertising. When you look at all the ads, there are girls across the spectrum from nice and thin and lovely to big and beautiful and proud of it.
Ashley Graham has opened up doors for lots of people when she became the first plus size model, I think on the cover of “Sports Illustrated.”
RITHOLTZ: Wasn’t — I’m going to get her name wrong — was it Kate Hudson? One of the swimsuit models was considered as plus size and you look at her and she’s gorgeous and not what you would really think of as …
MALLIS: Right. That’s been a very interesting industry. That’s been about that thin, skinny, waif. And now, they’re more zaftig and beautiful and proud of it. And in fashion now and at the shows, you seem more inclusivity of — and diversity of black models and Asian models and Indian models and people of all the different ethnic cultures. I mean that’s who the customer is, that’s who the world is.
And designers who put out that one, I don’t — one blonde girls with straight blonde hair, 60 girls looking — that’s not what it’s about.
And so, there’s been a demand and the industry and customers and the media have really gotten fired up and said, come on, like let’s reflect what’s happening in the world. And I think that that’s all really good positive changes for the fashion industry. And it’ll be interesting to see the special week that’s coming up how, again, how that plays out.
Does the runway becomes a big bulletin board for what’s happening?
RITHOLTZ: So, that raises a really interesting question. How important are the runway shows and events like fashion week to, A, selling the latest designs, but B, also being an influencer on culture and society?
MALLIS: Well, I think the importance of fashion week in the fashion shows is changing. I think we’re in a very disruptive moment in fashion. People aren’t quite sure if they should be doing shows and spending the large amounts of money for it. But it still is a vehicle that generates millions of Instagram moments.
So, it’s become a vehicle for social media to really get the message out or the lookout. And that’s the good news/bad news in my mind because I’m still of that generation like, you say that I didn’t — I wasn’t born with an iPhone in my hand.
MALLIS: And I think, eventually, it’s all changing so much. I mean, I — you sit at a fashion show and I find it very frustrating that hardly anybody’s looking at the runway. They’re looking at their phone and they’re photographing everything and instead of looking at the real thing happening, they’re looking at it in the two-inch, three-inch little frame.
RITHOLTZ: You have to be present and they’re not.
MALLIS: I’m like put it down. Just look at what you — look what’s in front of you.
RITHOLTZ: So, I really admire concerts where you hear people where they say no phones allowed.
RITHOLTZ: Yes. I just saw — who was it? I just saw a show with — I’m drawing a blank on his name. I’ll figure it out.
I went to a show recently where everybody puts their phone in a bag and I actually left the phone in the car so I didn’t have to deal with it because I thought there’d be a giant line. It turned out, it’s just a little magnet and they pop it open. It really — there are people like Dave Chapelle who appears in various places will not allow — Aasif Mandvi is another one.
MALLIS: Yes. I mean, you look at these things, all you see is a sea of arms in the air and you can’t even see who’s performing because you got to look through everybody’s arms, the pictures they’re taking.
MALLIS: What do they do with all that footage and all those pictures? RITHOLTZ: It goes up to Apple or Google …
MALLIS: Cloud somewhere.
RITHOLTZ: … Photos and they never look at it again.
MALLIS: The concept of being present in the moment and participating in what’s happening right now, I think the current generation, while they have a lot to speak for, they’re motivated, they’re intelligent, they see the world in ways that we may not, sometimes it feels like they’re missing that moment because they’re trying to Instagram it.
MALLIS: And everybody’s designing things for that instagrammable moment. You go to any party now or opening for something, it’s no longer just the step and repeat wall where they’re taking pictures with the brand’s name on there …
MALLIS: They’re finding some unique visual that conveys something they’re doing and that’s the place where everybody — they expect to want everybody to take their picture, to take their selfie, not a picture.
RITHOLTZ: Not even a ...
MALLIS: Not even a real picture. Take your own picture in front of that instagrammable spot. And that’s how the world is viewed now through Instagram. So, fashion week becomes a place where everybody wants to quickly say I’m there. I was there. I — that’s the best look.
Smart companies understand how to track data and use that information and can say this was the biggest look that came out of that show, this is what we should get behind, and this is something we should, maybe you know do a bigger production run on.
If you could use the information correctly, I think that there’s some value in it. But otherwise fashion week is — fashion shows are still the best way to see a designer’s vision come to fruition from head to toe, what are they thinking? What’s there? What the look? What’s the point of view?
But I question now who’s — who you doing it for? Who’s — again, I’m getting too old now. I mean, I used to go and I’d — you’d know everybody in the front row. And then the second row and maybe even the third row.
Now, you go who are these people? I didn’t know there was a job called influencer when I was growing up. I would’ve applied.
RITHOLTZ: Well, when you and I were growing up, that wasn’t a job. That didn’t exist …
RITHOLTZ: … pre-Internet, pre-mobile, pre-cellphone. I forgot — I don’t remember the brand but I read something not too long ago. It might’ve been in wired magazine. That even ice cream companies are changing all their labeling on the packages so they’re instagrammable. Like, look how nice this is. Take a photo and that’s free marketing and advertising for them.
So, the idea of actually building something from the ground up, you’re going to get lost in a sea of competition but if you can get in front of enough people via Instagram or Facebook or Twitter or what have you, it’s a leg up.
MALLIS: Yes. I mean, models are hired and booked for shows based on how many Instagram followers they have. Models and people, celebrities, used to have to build a career. Now, they build their own platform. They do it all by themselves.
Models have to tell their story without you don’t have to wait for them to be on 15 “Vogue” covers to have a career.
MALLIS: They reach out and they do their story and they have millions of followers. But in Instagram, there was a — one of my favorite jokes I saw was on — I think it must have been “New Yorker” cartoon, a couple people — a couple at a table in a restaurant eating, and the chef walks over to them and looks at him and says, “What’s the matter? Didn’t you like the food?” And they said, “Well, yes, they said because nobody would took a picture.”
RITHOLTZ: I’m trying to pronounce her name. Emily Ratajkowski who was in the “Blurred Lines” vide, I think she has some like 4 million or 5 million …
MALLIS: It's insane.
RITHOLTZ: … Twitter followers. It’s really shocking and that is, here, I could actually pull it up while we’re — her official. I’m wrong, 1.3 million. So, but still, that’s a million people. That’s a lot of people.
RITHOLTZ: She got famous long before that but at a certain point, if you want a career in, fill in the blank, having the ability to influence or attract in the modern era, being adept at market, especially online and social networks, is a user — huge advantage for anybody pretty much in any career. At risk at mansplaining that.
MALLIS: I agree.
RITHOLTZ: But it seems to be a big, big part of that — a mini industry.
MALLIS: It is. Well, that’s how people get your information, online, and on a screen, on a cell phone. I mean, I have nieces who don’t ever turn television on. They watch everything on their computer, on their laptops. I mean, never. Never have the TV on.
RITHOLTZ: So, what does all of this mean for the future of fashion and clothing if people aren’t watching TV, if they’re not paying attention to what’s going on around them, how do companies and manufacturers and advertisers reach the audience?
MALLIS: Well, how it affects them all, I mean, at the end of the day, people are still wearing clothing.
MALLIS: People haven’t, although, last week they — I guess, walked out on the subways with no pants on or something, there was some …
RITHOLTZ: It was a big deal. Right. MALLIS: No pant day or something. RITHOLTZ: Right.
MALLIS: But people are still getting up every day and putting clothing on and they’re still wearing clothes. They still buy things.
So, the industry is not going too far away. But how people reach out to them? That’s a good question. I mean, you have to be — you have to hire smart and bright and I — and you have to get in to that head of that millennial and some of those young people who are really out there thinking, coming up with clever ideas. Yo have to create experiences, you have to create something that resonates.
And that’s why I said it’s whether it’s resonating about the environment and things that matter to people. This generation is finally caring about the environment because it’s the planet that they’re growing up in. And I think there’s more and more attention to that, learning about that brands that are making a real concerted effort to do something that is sustainable and correct and we’re also learning about that and don’t even know what all those words mean.
I’m on the board of the FIT Foundation and our gala this year in April is honoring — is focusing on sustainability. It’s going to be surrounded by a conference for two days about the issue of sustainability with great people speaking. It’s all about
These kids in school, they care about that. They recycle,
work things through. And companies have to start having a
matters. And I think that that’s where — somehow, those messages get through.
RITHOLTZ: Can you stick around a bit? I have a bunch more for you.
RITHOLTZ: We have been speaking Fern Mallis of Fern Mallis
and fashion icon at the 92nd Street Y. If you enjoyed this conversation, be sure to stick around for the podcast extras where we keep the tape rolling and continue discussing all things fashion.
You can find that wherever you find our podcasts are sold, iTunes, Overcast, Stitcher, bloomberg.com. We love your comments, feedback, and suggestions. Write to us@MIBpodcast@bloomberg.net. Follow me on Twitter @Ritholtz. You can check out my daily column at bloomberg.com/opinion. I’m Barry Ritholtz, you’re listening Masters in Business on Bloomberg Radio.
Welcome to the podcast. Fern, thank you so much for doing this. I’ve been looking forward to having this conversation. I was going to drag my wife in because she spent a longtime teaching fashion illustration and design and has since retired.
But there’s a bunch of other things I wanted to get to that I didn’t including “Fashion Icons with Fern Mallis”. So, let’s talk a little bit about the series you do with the 92nd Street Y. How did the idea for this come up and tell us a little bit about the program?
they really message that
MALLIS: Well, I’m very, very proud of this the series, almost as proud as I am of having creative fashion week because …
RITHOLTZ: That’s saying something.
MALLIS: Yes. I know. It really means a lot to me. When I left IMG Fashion, when the tents were moving from Bryant park to Lincoln Center, it was time for me to leave. I said, you know what, I’ve done this for almost 19 years at Bryant Park, it was my baby it’s moving to a new location which I wasn’t really …
RITHOLTZ: Thrilled with?
MALLIS: Basically, so thrilled with and neither was the industry and its out of there already. I said you know what? I need a break. And so, I took time off. I was happily able to do that and I experienced what I call — and it’s in my book, because I have a book called “Fashion Lives” from this series — what became the coffee phase of my life, which meant that all of a sudden I’m trying to just chill and enjoy my house in the country.
And I’d get calls. Can I meet you for a cup of coffee? I have this
idea I want to talk to you about. I have this idea I want to you about. I have this new project coming up. Can we go out of coffee? My friend told me I should talk to you. You’re a to help me on this new startup. Can we have a cup of coffee?
talk to for a cup good one
I said everybody wanted to take me out for a cup of coffee, nobody wanted lunch or dinner. There was just coffee.
RITHOLTZ: Coffee's cheaper.
MALLIS: Yes. I was crazy. And it was oddly enough over a cup of tea and a good friend of mine, a photographer, Timothy Greenfield Sanders, who said I’m going to introduce you to a friend of mine, Betsy, who’s a — who handles speaking tours and all this. You have great stories and to tell about. P.S., she introduces me to Susan Engle from 92nd Street Y, who is the head of their programming, and we have a cup of coffee.
And she said we’ve always loved fashion up here at the Y, we’ve done one offs, Diane von Furstenberg has been up here or this one, or Calvin through the years, but nothing that’s been concrete, like a series, and they do have some very good series there. And for people who don’t know the 92nd Street Y is truly the preeminent cultural institution in New York.
I mean, presidents, prime ministers, authors, actors, celebrity, anybody doing anything that matters, it gets up there and is interviewed or talked to somebody in their auditoriums. Its extraordinary — she didn’t go there 350 days a year and …
RITHOLTZ: Something there at a different night …
MALLIS: Every night, there’s something. Politics. It’s an unbelievable.
So, Susan said, would you be interested in interviewing fashion designers and doing something with us. Then I said, I’m usually the one being interviewed, but I’m sure I can string together some intelligent questions. We named it “Fashion Icons with Fern Mallis” and she said let’s see if we can get some good people.
So, the first one was Norma Kamali and who’s an old old pal and I think one of the most creative designers in the world and the next one was Calvin Klein. And when I had Calvin on the stage, I said to him, one of my first questions to him was why are you doing this? You’re out of your business, you sold at that moment, it was like over 10 years ago, you have nothing to sell and pitch, no new fragrant, nothing coming out, and he said I’m doing it because you asked me and the doing it for you and I’m doing it because the Y — he talked about how important the Y was and I was like good answer.
And that kicked off this series where people buy tickets. It’s like 800 or 900 people in the auditorium and it’s been Calvin and Donna and Tommy Hilfiger and Tom Ford and Mark Jacobson, Andre Leon Talley and Diane and it just goes on and on and on. And is now in my eighth year.
RITHOLTZ: No kidding? How many are you doing ...
MALLIS: Eighth year.
RITHOLTZ: ... a year?
MALLIS: I do, maybe — it depends. Scheduling is a nightmare. Some years …
RITHOLTZ: I’m sure.
MALLIS: … six or seven, some years, it’s 10, some years it’s three. RITHOLTZ: So, you’re not too far away from a hundred?
MALLIS: Well, I’m 43 and I’m like …
MALLIS: … 43. I have a lot of people on the horizon but dates are not confirmed. But I mean, in addition to people I mentioned, I’ve done Leonard Lauder who was once an extraordinary interview. It was the Valentino. Victoria Beckham, Iman, and Cindy Crawford and Missonis and Alexander Wang, and Zac Posen.
RITHOLTZ: Wow. MALLIS: I mean, just all -- the whole group ... RITHOLTZ: This is pure A list.
MALLIS: I just had Arthur Elgort, the photographer. In December, I did Peter Marino, the architect who talked about retail, is retail important? And one street in Manhattan, from 57th Street, from Madison to 5th, he’s designed the Fendi store, the Dior store, the Chanel store, the Zegna store, the Louis Vuitton store and Bulgari.
MALLIS: It’s one architect and his office has done all of that … RITHOLTZ: That whole block.
MALLIS: … in one block.
MALLIS: I mean, it’s extraordinary. And creating experiences that make you want to come in the stores and spend time there and buy something. So, it’s the width and breadth of the industry …
RITHOLTZ: So, if people want to find either the video or audio of fashion icons with Fern Mallis at the 9nd Street Y, where do they go for that?
MALLIS: You can go to the 92Y’s YouTube channel and put in Fern Mallis and Fashion Icons and you can get him like a three to five-minute clip. The whole interview is not available.
RITHOLTZ: Well, when are going to make that available? This whole podcasting thing is going to …
MALLIS: I’m going to work on that. I’m working on that. RITHOLTZ: … big one day.
RITHOLTZ: We have to have you actually …
MALLIS: I know.
RITHOLTZ: And how long are these conversations, 45 minutes? An hour?
MALLIS: Sixty, 90 minutes.
MALLIS: Usually an hour and a half.
RITHOLTZ: And ...
MALLIS: And it’s their life — it is the definitive interview of these people’s lives.
RITHOLTZ: I have ...
MALLIS: You walk out of there and you learned who they are. How did you become this person? You grow — most of these people grew up with nothing.
MALLIS: And had started a business with nothing. And I’m fascinated. How do you build a billion-dollar business? How did you — who did you hire? How did you — when you made your first sale, well, who saw the labels in? Did you need to hire 10 people? How much money did you need to borrow? How do you this? How did it go to the next step and how did it go to that?
To hear Michael Kors tell his story about being in the — ringing the bell when the stock went public.
MALLIS: And his mother looking up at him at the podium going, fix your tie. I mean, he said it was better than his bar mitzvah.
RITHOLTZ: That’s hilarious.
MALLIS: And I mean, wonderful stories of these people’s lives and careers.
RITHOLTZ: So, we have to get this stuff — we have to free the content, get it out from behind …
MALLIS: Well, let's talk about it.
RITHOLTZ: … wherever it is and we’ll help you do that. That will be easy enough to do.
So, I only have you for a limited amount of time and I want to get to
my favorite questions. I ask all of the hot seat for a few minutes.
Let's start with the -- an easy one, people don't know about Fern Mallis?
MALLIS: What is the most -- I mean, pussycat. People think I'm tough.
RITHOLTZ: Your reputation is you're MALLIS: Yes. But that’s not ...
my guests. So, I'll put you on tell us the most important thing I'm really a softie and a really tough cookie.
RITHOLTZ: You’re telling me it’s marshmallow inside. All right. That’s good to know. Your assistant is laughing behind your back, just so you know.
MALLIS: Does he agree with it?
RITHOLTZ: Who are some of your early mentors? Who influenced your career?
MALLIS: I’ve had to say my dad, my uncles, my sisters. The family around me. They were a few in business, but I never was that like attached myself to somebody.
RITHOLTZ: What about designers? Who influenced the way you look at clothing and fashion?
MALLIS: All of all of them. All of the above. I’m Madeleine Albright here.
RITHOLTZ: So, let’s talk about books, not the one you wrote will include that in all of our links, but what are some of your favorite books? What do read to relax? Fashion, non-fashion? Fiction?
MALLIS: Well, what I read to relax are three or four newspapers every day.
RITHOLTZ: No, I said to relax. Not to make yourself crazy.
MALLIS: Yes. One of my favorite books of all time is a book called a “One Thousand White Women.”
RITHOLTZ: Never heard of it.
MALLIS: It is so good. Get it on Amazon .
RITHOLTZ: “One Thousand White Women.” What it’s about?
MALLIS: It’s about a time when President Grant was the president and the …
RITHOLTZ: A century ago.
MALLIS: And they were looking to assimilate some of the Indian tribes and take their land, basically. So, there was a deal struck between some of the Indian chiefs to give — well, with the chiefs and the administration, to give them the tribes of thousand white women to become part of their tribes to assimilate the cultures.
It's quite fascinating. But I've also just ...
RITHOLTZ: Never heard of it.
MALLIS: … starting the “Becoming,” Michelle Obama’s book which is …
RITHOLTZ: Best-selling book in 2018 and I think it was …
RITHOLTZ: And I think it was released in either end of November or December. It just blew up.
MALLIS: I went to see her talk at Berkeley Center and it … RITHOLTZ: How was that?
MALLIS: She’s great. I’ve met her a couple times and she — extraordinary.
RITHOLTZ: Dresses very nice. Sharp dresser.
MALLIS: Well, she was very important to the fashion industry.
RITHOLTZ: Was she? Why is that?
MALLIS: She worse so many young designers and unknown designers and up-and-coming designers and established designers. And she …
RITHOLTZ: I had no idea. MALLIS: Fashion was a huge messaging for her.
RITHOLTZ: When was the last time we saw a first lady who did that? Is that Jackie O.?
MALLIS: Jackie was an important one. I’m trying to … RITHOLTZ: Or that it wasn’t O but it was Jackie Kennedy. MALLIS: Jackie Kennedy. Yes.
I think Michelle — well, Nancy Reagan had her fashion moments with Galanos and certain designers that she wore and Arnold Scaasi, and but Michelle Obama was a champion of the American fashion industry.
RITHOLTZ: Quite fascinating.
MALLIS: So, what are you excited about in the fashion industry right now?
MALLIS: I’m excited about seeing what’s going to be coming up in the next few weeks and how things are going to evolve and change and what’s new.
RITHOLTZ: Is this an important fashion — especially important fashion show for 2019 or is this is …
MALLIS: Well, it’s the first of this year. It’s the fall collections that we’re going to be seeing. I mean, it’s fashion week. It’s — there’s another one going to be in September.
RITHOLTZ: So, tell us about a time you failed and what you learned from the experience?
MALLIS: I wish I — I can’t — I don’t remember something where I could say I really failed at it. I mean I’ve been a good girl.
RITHOLTZ: Well, I don’t mean a — I mean, sometimes you try something and it doesn’t work out and there’s a life lesson in it, not necessarily good versus bad, but gee, that didn’t turn out the way I was hoping. But here’s my take away.
MALLIS: The most recent one was the chicken soup I made last weekend. I bought a really expensive free range chicken and it was tasteless. So, the soup wasn’t as good as my normal chicken soup.
MALLIS: Because it just didn’t have all that fat and that just the chicken didn’t fall apart the same way.
RITHOLTZ: I got you. MALLIS: So, that was a mini failure.
RITHOLTZ: That’s amusing. What do you do for fun? What do you do outside of work either relax or stay busy and interested? What non- fashion stuff keeps you occupied?
MALLIS: I have a house out in East End and I love going out there. Thank God. It keeps me sane.
MALLIS: And it’s on a lake and I just so enjoy being there. I’m a very good gardener. And I do like cooking on the weekends spite of my not-so-great chicken soup.
RITHOLTZ: Have you become a year-round hamptonite?
RITHOLTZ: Because that’s been more and more of these days.
MALLIS: Totally. Yes. For years — I think — it mostly became a much more year-round after 9/11, I’d say. But …
RITHOLTZ: I never thought about that. I wonder — I think you might be right about.
MALLIS: Because started moving out there and getting out there and living out there. But, yes, I’ve had that house since I was at CFDA and I remember a moment when I thought I can’t do this. I’m not Mary, why am I buying a house by myself?
MALLIS: And I said what am I going to have at the end of this 10 years here? A lot of clothes to show for it? It’s the best decision I’ve ever made in my life.
RITHOLTZ: So, what sort of advice would you give to a millennial or a recent college graduate who’s interested in a career in fashion.
MALLIS: I’d say why. I’d say, like every other thing you’re interested in, become a sponge. Just absorb it all. And just shut up a little bit and listen, just. You don’t you don’t really have the answers to everything as much as they think they do. And I think we need to, at some point, also listen more to some of these millennials.
RITHOLTZ: And finally, what is it that you know about the world of fashion and marketing today that you wish you knew 30 or so years ago when you were really gearing up your career?
It’s hard to say because I wished 30 years ago, I understood technology the way we have it now because it’s just so different. But if I could’ve done something differently then, I would’ve learned more about
finance and business and numbers. I mean I never took that very seriously. I always said I’m on the creative side. Let somebody else worry about that.
MALLIS: And I think that it’s important to always have an understanding and a grip on the financial implications inside of everything you’re working on.
RITHOLTZ: Quite fascinating.
We have been speaking with Fern Mallis. She is the Head of Fern Mallis LLC as well as the creator of fashion week, runs the “Fashion Icons with Fern Mallis” at the 92nd Street Y. If you enjoy this conversation, be sure look up an inch or down an inche on Apple iTunes and you can see any of the other 250 or so of these conversations we’ve put together over the past five years.
We love your comments, feedback and suggestions. If you’re not happy with this show, well, write to us at MIBpodcast@Bloomberg.net and tell us why. If you are happy, go on to Apple iTunes and give us a good review. We’d appreciate that.
I would be remiss if I did not thank the crack staff who helps put together these conversations each week. Madena Parwana is our producer, Karoline O’Brien is my audio engineer, Taylor Riggs is our booker/producer, Michael Batnick is my head of research, Atika Valbrun is our project manager.
I’m Barry Ritholtz, you’ve been listening to Masters in Business on Bloomberg Radio.