Dressed in her signature turtleneck sweater paired with sparkly Vera Wang pants, Polly Mellen held the entire auditorium at the 92Y in rapt attention on Wednesday evening during a conversation with Fern Mallis.
In about an hour and a half, the pair walked through Mellen’s noteworthy fashion history, beginning with her parent’s influence in molding her career path, following her beginnings at Lord & Taylor, and resulting in a legendary tenure at Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, and Allure. To a stylish crowd that included Bruce Weber, Kate Lanphear, and Douglas Keeve, Mellen shared stories, words of advice, and a peek into moments that made up her life in the industry. ”I was the spoiled brat of the fashion world. I know it. I knew it. And I loved it,” Mellen said with her signature giggle.
As she took the crowd through her memories of Diana Vreeland, she afforded the audience a taste of the person behind the brilliance, sharing the moment Vreeland dressed Mellen’s son in her earrings and regularly gifted two dresses to her children despite the fact that she only had one girl at the time. Stories of her moments on set with Richard Avedon came to light, as well as the most expensive fashion shoot in history – a five week trip to Japan with Veruschka, Avedon, and fifteen trunks filled with clothes.
Though she wouldn’t name the model who was most difficult to work with, (as said model is still in the industry) Mellen did mention that Raquel Welch, Barbra Streisand, and Faye Dunaway posed certain temperaments on set. As for designers who’ve caught her attention, Mellen name dropped Nicholas Ghesquiere, Alexander Wang, Zac Posen, Marc Jacobs, and Ralph Lauren.
Even though the crowd would have happily sat in their chairs all night listening to stories from Mellen, Mallis ended with a simple question – how she stayed true to her voice and avoided to doubt. “I don’t have trouble trying to find my voice. I’m not sure I believe in doubt,” Mellen said. “If you’re learning and curious, something else takes on. Doubt can be erased. I’m not a negative person. There’s no need to be. It’s much better to be rosy, to look forward to tomorrow.”