An Exclusive Interview with Fashion Designer & Author of
Silk for the Feed Dogs, Jackie Mallon
I’ve started and stopped, typed and deleted this intro for the past … okay I won’t say how long and yet it still didn’t read right or give what I wanted to say any justice so I’m just going to blurt it out –
I bloody well got an interview with JACKIE MALLON !!!
Right so, that some-what out of my system let me just try string some words to describe Jackie Mallon and how I feel right now before my head explodes – Fashion Designer, Teacher, Giorgio Armani, Beyonce, Lucy Liu, London, Central St. Martins, Milan, New York, Author, Famous, Movie Stars, Music Stars, Designer, Britney Spears, Irish, Famous, Moschino, Silk for the Feed Dog, Novel, Anthropologie, Carrie Bradshaw – Sex in the City, I got an interview with Jackie Mallon, what the f … iddle sticks and holy sugar, I’m seeing Stars … nope that’s just an email from Jackie Mallon, cool.
If you understood that, you know why you read this blog.
A few weeks ago the opportunity arose to interview Fashion Designer and Author of Silk for the Feed Dogs, Jackie Mallon. I jumped at the chance, like any sane person with her own blog/website would. I was really delighted to be given the opportunity to chat to Jackie, alas not face to face over a coffee or pint but over this here internet, but Dublin and New York City seem only a stones throw away from each other when emails are bounced back and forth.
Jackie Mallon is a Fashion Designer to the Stars. She’s Author to a brilliant first novel but she’s also Irish, a County Tyrone girl, from Cookstown to be precise, a place that is known for farming and was known for linen and with no pun intended this makes up the fabric of Jackie Mallon.
The book is a must read for budding Fashion Designers as it gives a behind the scene glimpse into the real world of fashion, for Fashion Designers, who will relate to Jackie’s words, trials tribulations and successes and for Fashion Lovers who seek a great read. Having studied an Honours Degree in Fashion Design myself in Belfast, a career I did not pursue or have ‘what if’s’ about but never say never, I found it both insightful, fun and full of ‘ah that’s what it would’ve been like’ moments.
Here’s a taster of what it’s all about …
Silk for the Feed Dogs illuminates a world the author knows intimately in a way it hadn’t been described before: with thoughtfulness, profundity and humour.
Kat Connelly, innovative designer and introspective daughter of an Irish farmer, is disappointed with her first job in fashion. She copies catwalk looks for a London garmento who is reliant on two things to survive: selfmedication and cheap Chinese production.
Kat feels the lure of a higher aesthetic beckoning and escapes to Milan.
As Italy’s imminent smoking ban looms darkly over the land, Kat’s personal world lights up: design and beauty are all around, dazzling and seducing, not to mention the overwhelming Italian male libido. She has claimed her slice of the bella vita and with it a sense of belonging she has yearned for since childhood. Of course, the bella vita comes at a price. When Kat is invited into the impenetrable House of Adriani to design their high-profile collection, she throws a cast-iron hierarchy into turmoil. Some will do anything to see her fall …
And here’s the interview …
- Silk for the Feed Dogs, for some of us in the know, get the title and understand it but for others can you explain …
Feed dogs are the two metal bars with teeth underneath the needleplate of the sewing machine. They are in place to feed the fabric through the machine. But if they get clogged or the tension is wrong they will chew your precious fabric to within an inch of its life. All you’ll be left with is a handful of threads. As you can imagine, the fashion industry is riddled with feed dogs of the flesh and blood variety. The silk of this story is the 100% farm-bred, milk-fed, unsuspecting heroine, Kat Connelly, who confronts the feed dogs head on.
- You’ve practically dressed Beyonce, Lucy Liu amongst other red carpet stars, worked with Giorgio Armani and Anthropologie but who in a magical world would you most like to work with (dead or alive) and who would your dream design wearer be?
With this question, you mean business! I’m thinking so hard I’ve chewed my lower lip to pieces. One easy one springs to mind–I designed for Moschino early in my career and loved it but often wondered what it would have been like to be there when Franco Moschino was alive. He was a balls-to-the-wall force to be reckoned with, and his sense of humour was at the heart of every business decision he made which also got him in a lot of trouble. Models crawled onto the catwalk, they wore paper bags on their heads, all sorts of silliness.
I’d like to dress Alison Goldfrapp as she has a very charismatic and modern way of putting herself together and yet has a look that harks back to the stunning silver screen goddesses of the thirties. I always admired the gorgeous ethereal style of Karen Elson. Now a musician she has unleashed a unique singing style and stage presence––add a guitar to a bohemian dress and I’m sold. I love people who are unafraid to move outside their lane and change the path of their futures. That fearlessness usually comes through in their fashion choices. I’d like to have been involved in Katherine Hepburn’s androgynous wide-legged trouser looks and have contributed to the crazy cuteness of Bjork. How’s that for variety?
- Silk for the Feed Dogs gives an insight into the world of Fashion and in the most Fashion Design driven of cities. You tell it how it is, as the novel is semi autobiographical so with this in mind and as a reflection of your own experience … if you had to do it all again would you choose the cities you chose to study and work in?
I don’t think there’s any other city to get started in than London. It’s so close to Ireland but in the right ways it’s far enough away too. Coming from my BA in Belfast, I felt quite sheltered and Central St Martin’s woke me up with a slap around the ears, that’s for sure! All the museums, interesting shops, remarkable people and fleamarkets and just everyday scenes that catch your eye as you’re strolling along the streets make London so inspiring for young creatives. The overheard conversations alone are eyeopening. It’s rebellious and questioning and has such a history of art and fashion to draw from. I was hooked from the first day despite not having money to live in any of the pretty parts––although the dodgy parts aren’t dodgy anymore since the Olympics.
I had always imagined after college I would move to Paris, never Milan, I spoke French too and not a word of Italian. A friend from St Martin’s was there and suggested I give Milan a go, and the rest is history. I’ll always harbour a “What if?” about Paris though. Maybe the famous French snobbery would have gotten to me. I prefer to be cursed at in the street then propositioned from a speeding moped which is the Italian way, than to be regarded with the cold aloofness associated with true Parisians.
- You mention in your radio interview that Irish greats such as Seamus Heaney and Polly Devlin inspired you as a reader, what Irish person would you consider an inspiration right now?
I’ll focus on my two fields, writing and fashion, even though there are a bunch of inspiring Irish people. I mean, Liam Neeson has steered his career at 60 years old into box office gold Hollywood action hero!
Simone Rocha is a graduate of NCAD in Dublin and the MA programme in St Martin’s now making big waves in the international fashion industry for her experimental textiles and playful ladylike silhouette. She’s part of this new wave of London Fashion Week talent that is attracting attention. I get a kick out of seeing her clothes stocked in the best stores here in NYC. She’s the daughter of legendary Dublin-based designer John Rocha so it’s in her blood but is a true talent in her own right. Fair play! It’s about time Ireland with its wealth of fabric resources and craftsmanship rose up in the style stakes!
Wicklow-born photographer Boo George, touted by W magazine as “fashion photography’s next big name” shoots for the best magazines and has a cool refreshing punky point of view that propels him to create hauntingly beautiful images.
I like to read the novels of Tana French who has dual citizenship in the US and Italy but studied in Trinity and considers Dublin home. I enjoy the similarities as I’ve lived in those countries too. I don’t read a lot of crime but love to see the success of Stuart Neville, born in Armagh, slaying US audiences, winning prizes all over the place. A newbie novelist from the same Dublin stable as me, Betimes Books, is David Hogan whose novel The Last Island is a beautiful poignant read. There are so many home-grown inspirations to choose from. What, you wanted just one?
- You enjoy going to readings in NYC, where authors and writers read extracts of their work and answer questions about it. Can you choose an extract from your own novel Silk for the Feed Dogs and answer why you chose it.
I chose this extract because it drops you right into the activity of Milan Fashion Week. Through Kat’s reactions as she walks through the middle of the frenzy that is engulfing the city, I wanted the reader to vicariously experience it, feel the building excitement…
As the tram rasped along the tracks, a sliver of Jumbotron screen from a half-hidden piazza flashed catwalk images from earlier in the week. I got off at Piazza Cinque Giornate to walk. Traffic was stock-still; drivers sprouted angrily from windows and delivered passionate steering wheel soliloquies while swinging their arms to a chorus of horns. Carabinieri officers blew whistles. Sealed off in the back seat of each cab, exacting-looking women in their early thirties, their hands in laps, eyes downcast, were caressing key pads like the beads of a rosary, utterly remote from the chaos outside. It was the infamous Fashion Week stand-off between locals and out-of-towners.
My stomach had begun to turn. I sympathized with the locals—hadn’t they every right to go about their daily business without this upheaval? And the out-of-towners—although it seemed like they just swanned in and created disruption, weren’t they just doing their jobs too? Everyone around me, whether sounding off or feigning obliviousness, blaring his horn or cursing under his breath, was authentic. I was the lone imposter streaking through the centre of it, going unnoticed. I was the pretender; the hick who had rolled into town in stolen Chanel and deceived everyone.
But by the end of the day, all would be revealed. I would know and so would everyone else. My three month periodo di prova would be over. It was a common practice to put new designers on trial to see if they understood the aesthetic of the house, the dynamics of the company, the nature of la moda Italiana. Ginevra’s comments this morning had touched a nerve. If the show didn’t go well, if Rosalba changed her mind, if the reviews were bad, these and any number of other upsets could be blamed on me, for I was the only new element in the equation.
I reached a side street clogged with trucks and equipment. A caravan of rolling racks trundled by carrying four outfits to a carriage, the merest teaser of their exotic colours and textures offered by a transparent plastic window next to the zipper. They were like guests of honour arriving early to a gala, being drawn through grounds that were still being made ready. In the courtyard, I stepped aside to allow a company of men to pass carrying heavy sound equipment. I avoided wriggling ropes and cables underfoot like cracks in the pavement. Farther inside, the DJ was yelling at a sound technician and a photographer from the Corriere Della Sera was taking pictures for the evening edition while people milled, someone handed me an Access All Areas pass, and the music became louder as the DJ ran through the sequence one last time.
The whole city was a stage. Fashion Week was one big show comprised of many smaller ones. I felt a respect for every single player in this ensemble cast, no matter how small his role, no matter how reluctant, from tram drivers whose routes were disrupted to newsstand owners who ordered extra copies of the dailies. I envied the regularity of the gig, their familiarity with it and, most of all, their pure, blinding proximity to the lights, camera, action. After tossing my coat and bag in a backstage locker, I walked into the fray, rolled up my sleeves and, wearing a smile from ear to ear, joined in the preparations for curtain up.
“Everyone into their first outfits now! Not a moment to lose! And where is Svetlana?”
The girls had gone into Hair and Make-up looking like a bunch of high schoolers and emerged as exotic as a herd of giraffe. At the announcement, they responded leisurely at first, loaded eyelids blinking, long necks crooking, gangly limbs knocking. Still without rush, they began to peel off army sweaters, unwind scarves and kick off scuffed boots, their vertebrae bobbing just under the skin like multiple Adam’s apples. As the outfits were pieced onto their bodies, they became less like wildlife and more like tribal figures, subjects of a sort of dressing ceremony in which elders draped skins, beads, scarves, feathers and jewels on the clan’s youngest, most beautiful members. Adrenaline pulsated in my ears like a drumbeat as I watched them transform into the goddesses from the glossies.
“Find Svetlana,” I heard Rosalba growl. “Her agent says she’s here.” I watched her retreating figure with her overhead choo-choo cloud of smoke and realized the growl had been directed at me. I set off running, in circles at first. How should I know where she is? What information on her whereabouts could I possibly have that Rosalba, the model booker, and the model’s own agent didn’t? I considered the possibility that Rosalba had gone off me; she was a capricious sort. On a hunch, I pulled open the heavy metal doors to the real world outside. Svetlana was gliding up the pavement in rollerblades with fluorescent wheels and smoking a cigarette, while flirting with three boys who were trying to impress her with their skateboarding tricks.
“There you are,” I said, spinning her around on the spot, a giraffe on wheels. “You need to go immediately to Hair and Make-up. You’re really late.” I clamped the heavy door closed and steered her to the make-up artist who looked at her unmade-up face in horror.
On my way through, I stuck my head out and saw the venue had filled up as journalists and editors took their seats somberly. Many still wore sunglasses. The shoes in the front row reminded me of a coastline of beautiful villas, each one more extravagantly built, more architecturally challenging than the next.
“Agnese! Ana D! Lara! Fucking get in line! Then I need Raquel, Natasha—Svetlana better fucking be here. Listen for your name and get in line! Agnese, Ana D…”
“I’m here, I’m here!” Svetlana whined indignantly from the make-up chair.
The man who inserted one curse word for every three names was red-faced but wore an impeccable grey three-piece suit and carried a clipboard. He had half-dressed models crashing into each other in their panic to react to their names.
“Who is that guy?” I asked Grace, my creative director.
“Oh, that’s Martinelli, an old friend of Franco’s. Most of the time, he’s okay. He does the hiring and firing, contracts, money, all that stuff. He’s scary when he has to fire someone, but he’s worse backstage at the fashion show. He’s been doing it for fifteen years, and every time it’s like he’s going to have a stroke.”
The air was heavy with hairspray. The lights dimmed outside. Rosalba put her finger to her lips and everyone was silent. The file of thirty-five girls—including Svetlana, urging her fingers into a pair of leather gloves—wound around the backstage area. Martinelli stared menacingly. The music began, and we saw on the video screen the heads of everyone in the audience pivot towards the narrow slit that separated our collection from their judgment. Their studied boredom had transformed into something else, a throwing down of the gauntlet: “Go on then, surprise us!”
- Finally would you now consider yourself a Fashion Designer who writes novels or a Novelist who is also a Fashion Designer?
Oh, that’s another good one. I get a joy from writing that is unlike what I get from designing. But obviously it’s easier to make money with my design skills. I want to juggle both. At the moment I’m teaching fashion design in NYC so that’s a third option! I still get a thrill out of fashion and love it as an art form but as a business it can be relentless. Writing is the opposite: reflective, meditative, private and satisfies the quieter side to my character. I’m going to plump for equal billing! Fashion Designer/Writer in alphabetical order just like they do in the movies when two major movie stars want top credit.
I mentioned a radio interview above, to listen to it click below
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If you’d like to purchase the Silk for the Feed Dogs, you can do so on Amazon here in Hardback or Kindle Edition for an absolute steal! Seriously she’s practically giving it away!
And just so you know I did ask the burning question about novel number two and whether it will be a continuation, have a fashion design theme or have completely different characters … and here’s what I was told …
My next novel is entirely different from Silk for the Feed Dogs. Kat and I lived in each other’s pockets for the most of five years so by mutual agreement we decided to take a break from each other. Of course, I’ll end up missing her. Down the line I wouldn’t be against the idea of a sequel.
Want to know EVEN MORE about Jackie Mallon – Check out her Blog here – jackiemallon.com