New York-based designer Katie Gallagher was making her last signature collection, before her unexpected death last month, and now friends, relatives, former classmates and fellow creatives are trying to make sure it will be finished and seen.
Raised in a declining former mining town in Pennsylvania, Gallagher’s dogged determination, quiet determination and tireless tinkering helped her carve out a place for herself in New York’s already crowded and sometimes unforgiving fashion industry. After graduating from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2009, she decamped to Manhattan, interning with Anna Sui at one point and modeling here and there for Gap Japan, Ray-Ban and other brands.
Born Kathryn Marie Gallagher in DuBois, Pennsylvania, Gallagher and her three sisters later moved with their parents — a history professor father and registered nurse mother — to State College. A funeral service was held for Gallagher on August 4 at the Church of Our Lady of Victory. A memorial in New York is being planned for the 35-year-old designer, who died July 23 at her Chinatown apartment.
A hint of her pro-Leo working habits was evident in Gallagher’s most recent tattoo which depicted Our Lady of Seven Sorrows, seven being the biblical reference to completion and perfection. Without any siblings, the imaginative group of sisters ran together in the woods, enjoyed telling stories and learning to stand up for themselves, according to the designer’s sister, Lara. They were encouraged by their parents to find what they love to do and never give up. A video that was released as part of Gallagher’s eulogy last week included a clip from a home movie of his father ‘lecturing about not giving up on a coloring contest and quoting [Marlon Brando in the film] ‘On the Waterfront’ and how you could be a champion. He was really talking about it, ”said Lara Gallagher. “That was cool. I think we were listening — for better or [for] worse.”
Fiery about the holidays, especially Halloween, and a visit from her parents, the designer woke up each day excited by all that awaited her – so much so that as a child she signaled it with a call dinosaur to let everyone know she was up. “We’re ready and ‘let’s do it.'” her mother Debra said Tuesday. “She always had to have a plan, even for the fun things. When she came home, we always had to have a plan.
While Gallagher never achieved international fame or national fame, as some young designers do, she created her own story and maintained a certain ingenuity. One of her former RISD teachers, Meg DeCubellis, said Tuesday, “She had her own style and her own vision. Yes, living in the city is difficult. The business side of things might have affected him more than anything. But her creativity and know-how saved her. That’s what made it stick. Making and designing was how she navigated all the other intensities of the fashion industry.
After meeting Gallagher during her internship in 2007 and witnessing the resources she invested in 26 of her signature collections, Shan Reddy, chief operating officer of Prabal Gurung, said via email on Tuesday: “To me, Katie personified the work behind the work.More beautiful than any magazine editorial or collectible review was her determination to work as a bartender, florist, seamstress or whatever it took to realize her truth and vision.
He continued: “She is the story of so many New Yorkers who come to the city with nothing and give it their all, making it the place the world turns to for creativity, inspiration and, above all, , courage.”
Gallagher’s side gigs included bartending in Union Square with Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez before the congresswoman entered politics.
As New York Police Department detectives investigate her death, Gallagher’s family is trying to ensure her latest collection is completed and shown publicly, possibly as early as this fall. Her sister Lara Gallagher said: “It was really the only consolation, trying to think about all that meant so much to her, which was her job. His life was his work. We really want to honor that as if it were a child left behind, because in a way it really was.
Once Gallagher’s laptop and phone are returned to his loved ones, they expect to better understand what his plans were for the production and presentation of the collection. A GoFundMe page has been launched for the Katie Gallagher Legacy Fund and, by midday Tuesday, more than $16,200 of the $50,000 goal had been raised. The funds will be used for the 2023 collection, the memorial and future projects to preserve his legacy, celebrate his life’s work and stimulate other artists.
DeCubellis said Tuesday, “She was a really cool kid, who I think a lot of people could relate to. [in that] I’m-creative, I-want-to-start-my-own-business [mind-set.] I really feel bad that this is how his story ends here. A good friend of hers said to me recently, “Oh, we’re going to try and get her business going. I hope there is a way for someone or a collective to keep their spirit.
Growing up, Gallagher had no personal connection to anyone in the fashion industry and didn’t know anyone who was an artist, her sister Lara said. “Because it was such a crazy dream, I think it motivated her more. She just wanted what she wanted, and she wanted to figure it out. She was just wildly creative and she had the work ethic to accompany him.
At RISD, Katie Gallagher imagined a dress made entirely of metal springs. After the resource for the springs lost its home in a fire, the designer taught herself how to make the springs with a drill, rather than using an alternative material. “No matter what, something wasn’t going to go wrong because of her. It would be all the other variables. It wasn’t because she couldn’t do it or couldn’t make it work or didn’t have the money to do it,” her sister said.
Photographer William Eadon considered Gallagher an inspiration and a muse. At work on their spring 2023 lookbook, the pair had scheduled a shoot for July 24. Gallagher was pitching all the subjects and the idea was to shoot the collection on girls from downtown New York, Eadon said. “We wanted every type of girl you could see and we wanted it to resonate personally with those women,” he said. “Unfortunately, we were never able to finish.”
Footwear designer Cindy Waters, who recently collaborated with Gallagher on footwear, said Gallagher “cultivated an experience that focused on texture, sound and emotion. Her fashion shows debuted as a collection, but they were also an art exhibition, performance, and concert. Her clothes slid down her body like water – foams of transparency, droplets of shine.
The designer was found in bed in her Chinatown apartment, and the toxicology report and autopsy results could take up to 12 weeks, according to Lara. NYPD officials did not respond to a media request on Tuesday. The New York City Office of the Chief Medical Examiner said Monday that the case and the circumstances of his death are pending further investigation at this time.
Gallagher’s sister said: “Looks like she didn’t wake up. We just don’t know. It seems really unexpected. She was with friends that night. There were people who saw her that night. She was texting with people. Everything seemed perfectly fine, just a normal night, nothing out of the ordinary. So we just don’t know.
The industrious Gallagher launched her eponymous label in 2010 and has continued to create collections over the years. Autonomous, she makes each of her creations by hand using an industrial sewing machine and a domestic machine passed down by her paternal grandmother Evelyn. Its grassroots approach has won over luminaries like Lady Gaga, Rita Ora, Laverne Cox and Daphne Guinness.
Gallagher was also a complex pattern maker, artist and floral designer, fond of funerals. Bows, candy, heavy metal music, a Maine Coon cat, and poetry were other passions. Uninterested in the ups and downs of fashion, she created “her own beautiful world that had nothing to do with what was in fashion right now,” said her former assistant Jordyn Payne. “This world she created immediately fell in love with me. Her designs are often seen as dark and gothic, but she had this exceptional naivety about the world that gave her pieces a wonder.
Gallagher liked to figure things out on her own and didn’t like depending on others,” said LA-based filmmaker Lara Gallagher. The lithe and elegiac Gallagher continued to run after moving to New York. Being a competitive runner in a multi-county high school taught her to “just dig in and put up with stuff and that grit and determination carried over into her work. No matter how hard things got, she was going to make it,” her sister said.
Reddy speculated that Gallagher’s daily errands helped him “ignore and stay ahead of the demands of New York life”. he said. “Katie was calm, unassuming and deliberate. She was going to succeed, regardless of past, present, or what the future held.
DeCubellis said, “I find athletes tend to be really good with practice and routine. [of apparel design,] always come to class early and ready to work very hard. Not just a matter of talent or not, Gallagher knew how to work hard. This is what made her excel in everything she did.
These athletic tendencies could also be seen in the leggings that featured regularly in the collection, including an early one called “Arena”, a sexy sports-inspired gothic-inspired range.
As for how Gallagher would like to be remembered, his sister Lara said: “I think she wanted to be known. She wanted it all, she was always striving and always pushing. She was never satisfied. She wanted to be the best. You can see in her work and in her models how much attention to detail she was and how much she did on her own year after year. So many people would have quit sooner.
In addition to her mother and father Barry, Gallagher is survived by her grandmother Patricia “Bear” Kubatsky, her aforementioned sister Lara, and two other sisters, Gwendolyn and Marlee.