In June 1988 City Limits magazine ran a cover story titled Fashion’s New Mafia. It featured five male fashion journalists/stylists – Mark Connolly, Simon Foxton, Hamish Bowles, Marcus Von Ackermann and myself – described by writer Jessica Berens as ‘[the] new style arbiters…their power will grow’. In the second of a series I talk with Mark Connolly (pictured far left), style director, creative consultant, cultural magpie and a friendly face for fashion folk adrift in the Big Apple.
IRW. Where do you reside/work?
MC: I live in Manhattan, New York.
IRW: What is your first fashion memory?
MC: My first fashion memory is of going shoe shopping with my mother, not for my shoes but hers; she liked my opinion! Also in the fashion memory department my mother’s white Persian lamb coat with a brown mink collar that she wore on special occasions. Loved!!!!
IRW: What made you choose fashion as your medium?
MC: I started out studying Law but lasted 6 months up in Liverpool. I then moved to London to work in architectural finance for the BBC, sooo glamorous, but it was London and it was a toehold in TV. I managed to get a temporary summer transfer (or internship) to the costume department and felt like I had died and gone to heaven. I worked so bloody hard they offered be a job at the end of my stint. That changed my life, especially when I became the youngest costume design assistant (on temporary contract). They wouldn’t give me the job permanently as I didn’t have a degree in theatre design or fashion design so I told them to go fuck themselves.
IRW: When did you first realise you might make a career in fashion? How did you get started?
MC: I left the BBC and decided to get a degree and applied to the only art college I knew, St. Martins. I think I only got in because I was a few years older than the others and had had experience in a related field; diversity was the order of the day there, thank God! Getting in there changed my life totally, I never considered going back to the BBC. I got my fashion calling loud and clear. My first position in 1985 was Fashion Director of Cosmopolitan magazine. Then in 1988 I went over to Condé Nast to work on the launch issue of British GQ until late 1991. In spring 1992 I moved over to Condé Nast USA to be the Style Director of Condé Nast Traveler until the big purge of September 2013 when virtually the entire magazine, myself included, was let go under a new editorship.
IRW: How would you describe what you do for a living?
MC: I was incredibly lucky at Traveler, as I was allowed to create the look of the fashion and style pages from scratch. I had to set up the department, source my own photographers and research destinations around the world where our wealthy, sophisticated and well-traveled readers would surely love to go. I then had to marry what was going on with fashion for men and women around the world with a relevant destination, so I attended most of the European and American runway shows every year. As time went on particularly in the late 90’s and early 2000’s most of the major designers were influenced by foreign travel, usually where they had been on vacation so I had a broad canvas and lots of material.
IRW: What do you see as your role?
MC: Sometimes it was about creating a fantasy about a destination using the models almost as characters in a movie with a narrative. Usually involving a great journey, using trains, planes and automobiles. It could also be that I was showing a reader just how to be chic in a destination, buy this and wear it here! More commercial.
IRW: Is there a moment during your career that you felt like you were part of ‘Fashion’s New Mafia’?
MC: I seriously believe we shook things up at that time, paved the way and all of us had a very different style so we covered all markets.
IRW: What made you head off in a travel/lifestyle direction?
MC: I have always had a wanderlust as did most major designers in the early 1990s, their collections spanning the globe. It seemed churlish not to fuse the two things together and create beautiful imagery and to have someone else pay for me to see the world.
IRW: Where do you find your inspiration?
MC: Again it could be an exploration of a foreign culture and history via fashion inspired from their heritage or region. Mostly it was highly creative with great freedom to explore the world via the worlds of fashion, art, history and cinema. It is ironic that my earliest style and travel inspirations were James Bond movies and I got to live the life!
IRW: Do you have favourite clothes that make you feel fabulous?
MC: For most of my years at Traveler I was the king of the cashmere cardi! Super light, often blended with silk (thank you Prada), they are without doubt the best travel item a guy or girl can have. Oh and wide leg linen pants, very 1930’s boho.
IRW: Who were/are your role models/inspirations?
MC: Fashion designers and movies truly were my greatest inspirations.
IRW: Is there a photograph/look/image that you wished you had styled/art directed?
MC: Photographic images I wish I had worked on were the early Nick Knight/Yohji Yamamoto ads and catalogues, especially with Susie Bick.
IRW: Is there a piece of clothing you wished you had invented?
MC: I wish that I had invented Katharine Hamnett’s logo T’s.
IRW: Most stylish men/women?
MC: Stylish people are too numerous to mention but mostly not the obvious ones that are lauded on social media and on Instagram. Real people seen around the city or from many cultures around the world that I have been lucky enough to visit. But I do have a penchant for old Hollywood screen idols.
IRW: Which aspect of your work do you find most rewarding?
MC: The most rewarding part of my job was getting to go to the fashion shows and selecting some of the greatest looks of the season then taking them to an inspirational destination to create memorable images with an inspired and inspiring team of people. Oh and staying in amazing 5 star hotels didn’t hurt either.
IRW: Which aspect of your work do you find most challenging?
MC: The worst part was dealing with customs, losing trunks of clothing en route, missed flights, dealing with sick or lost models, jet lag and bad weather really sucks when you only shoot on location!!!!
IRW: What would you say to someone who believes fashion to be a frivolous career choice?
MC: The image of fashion has seemingly become more frivolous with the advent of social media; everyone on display and everyone is an expert. Look around you wherever you are, people are wearing clothing, it is a necessity for all; something no one can do without. It is a source of self-expression or a disguise or a security blanket or a uniform. It is clearly BIG business and operates by the rules of big businesses. Frivolity is just its surface appeal. It is a multi layered industry that can appeal to many people looking for a career.
IRW: Do you think being a man has had an effect on your career in the fashion industry?
MC: When we first started out in the industry I believe being a man had novelty appeal. I really felt that we had to be soooo much better and work much harder than women (and posh birds) who would naturally have been considered for magazine fashion jobs back then.
IRW: What advice would you give a young man who aspires to a career in fashion?
MC: Get a mentor. For me that was Bobby Hillson, then head of the MA course at St Martin’s. She could see that I was not ‘fully fashioned’ – I was crap at most of my studies, couldn’t cut a pattern, hated sewing, was dreadful at sketching. What was a fashionable boy to do? Bobby made it her business to transform me from fashion designer into a writer and stylist. I will never ever forget her for that.
IRW: What are the most recent projects you have been working on?
MC: In 2013 I started up my own luxury travel/fashion consultancy but by February of this year I decided I needed a one-year sabbatical in order to figure out what I really wanted to do, so alternative therapies and healing work beckoned. I am now in the process of totally changing what I do for a living!
IRW: What’s next on your to do list?
MC: The next thing on my list is to take a year off (another one!) to travel the world and to document my spiritual journey combined with a travel journal/blog with a view to making it into a TV show, which I am in early discussions with.
My mid-life gay Eat, Pray, Love if you like…
MARK CONNOLLY PORTFOLIO:
AMAZON QUEEN – Condé Nast Traveler
Photographer: Daniela Federici
“Up the Peruvian Amazon”
VROOM – VROOM! VIETNAM – Condé Nast Traveler
Photographer: Lee Jenkins
“Shot in Saigon”
THE JUNGLE LOOK – Condé Nast Traveler
Photographer: Daniela Federici
“Shot in Costa Rica”
A PLACE FOR THE PEOPLE – Condé Nast Traveler
Photographer: Frédéric Lagrange
“Shot at the Taj Hotel Hyderabad”
POLAND’S BIG PARTY – Condé Nast Traveler
Photographer: Norbert Schoerner
“Shot in Krakow”
SILVER MINING PLAYBOOK – Condé Nast Traveler
Photographer: Kate Orne
“Shot in Dunton Hot Springs, Colorado”