Malcolm Carfrae: In my field, New York is the apex of making it

Interview by Molly O'Brien, Marketing & Communications Specialist, Advance. 

Malcolm Carfrae is a household name in the fashion industry – not just in New York where he has lived since 2003 – but also LA, London and in particular, Australia.

Carfrae is a big supporter of both emerging and established Australian fashion brands. He is the co-founder of the Australian Fashion Foundation and on the board of the Australian Fashion Chamber – a non-profit organisation united by the vision to strengthen, promote and develop Australian fashion design by nurturing talent, originality and success both locally and internationally.

Having recently left his position of Global Head of Communications at Ralph Lauren to establish Carfrae Consulting, a global branding and strategic communications consulting firm in New York, Advance caught up with Malcolm to get a snapshot of his New York life.

What was the most alluring aspect of moving to New York?

I moved to New York from London, so I would say the light and the money! In my field, New York is the apex of "making it".

How do you think growing up and attending university in Australia has contributed to your successes?

Studying History at the University of Sydney in Australia was a truly great all round education, but didn’t train me for anything specific. Looking for an entry level job abroad with a Master’s Degree was a humbling experience! I’ll always identify with young people searching for their first jobs – it’s brutal, especially for a foreigner.

You were the EVP for Global Communications for Calvin Klein for 11 years, and the Global Head of Communications, PR and Media for Ralph Lauren after that, throughout the digital revolution. What is the biggest shift you’ve experienced in conveying a brand’s message?

I think a lot of brands are more interested in generating content and being disruptive socially in their messaging than in getting credits in magazines. That’s been the biggest shift. When my team and I came up with the #mycalvins social media campaign it was still the digital wild west – now every brand is trying to replicate it.

What’s the biggest challenge of working in the fashion industry in NYC?

There isn’t a downside apart from the fact that you never, and I repeat never, stop working. Even when you take a day off. Turning on an "out of office" notification is not acceptable in my world.

You are the founder of the incredible initiative that is the Australian Fashion Foundation – promoting talented and passionate young Australians to a global stage. Was there a specific driving factor behind this, or was it that something developed over time?

Nine years ago I was having lunch with a business friend, Julie Anne Quay who was working for V Magazine, and we decided to set up a network for Aussies working in the industry in New York to connect socially and professionally. But then we thought, why not do something to help the next generation of Aussie fashion talent? That’s how the Australian Fashion Foundation was born. It’s so hard for them to find international contacts and experience – we aim to fill that void in some small way.

Do you have a “proudest moment” story in your repertoire, of seeing the next generation of Australian talent flex their muscles in the US through the program?

My proudest moment is seeing the winners of this program get amazing jobs in the industry – Georgia Lazzaro at Protagonist, Tim Watson at Thom Browne, Alex Kelvy at Louis Vuitton. It makes it all worthwhile.

What does your role as the Executive Director of the Australian Fashion Chamber entail?

Essentially I am their eyes and ears in NY. I wish I could do more but I’m not able to attend board meetings. A little too far to fly for a meeting!

What does fashion mean to you? What about Australian fashion?

I’m going to steal a quote from Miuccia Prada because she said it best: "What you wear is how you present yourself to the world, especially today, when human contacts are so quick. Fashion is instant language." Australian fashion is just that, but we have to try harder and be more nimble because we are so far away.

Where’s your favourite place to get a coffee in New York?

Jack’s Coffee on West 10th Street or Lena on West 8th Street.

More importantly, what about a cocktail?

The gorgeous new Whitby Hotel in midtown. We had our Australian Fashion Foundation event there last week.