As far as life transformations go, Mark Connolly’s has pretty much been a total eclipse.
Nearly four years after exiting Condé Nast Traveler as style director, Connolly has no need for the designer staples that were his unofficial uniform. After an exhaustive journey into wellness and spiritual pursuits, he has become a reiki practitioner and intuitive counselor, enlightening members of the fashion pack that he used to trek to shows with in New York, London, Paris and Milan.
His self-discovery also delved into yoga, shamanism, shamantic counseling, soul retrieval, past life clearance, psychic training, aromatherapy and endless webinars on mindfulness and wellness. Animated as he was recalling shopping along Milan’s Via della Spiga, and the shorthand conversations shared with fellow editors on-the-road, Connolly sounded even more enthusiastic describing how he has changed. “The journey is ongoing but it’s been three-and-a-half years. It was a huge risk. I used my life savings to save my life. I was miserable for the last five years in that job. I stayed at that party five years too long,” Connolly said. “It turned out to be one of those universal lightning bolt moments – you’re not going to change your life so we’re going to change it for you.”
With its Balinese orb lights, a smattering of crystals and other keepsakes from his 25 years of editorial-induced travel, his uptown apartment is certainly not corporate. Relaxed in a roomy white Carolyn Massey shirt, Earnest Sewn camouflage drop-crotch pants and black Adidas sneakers, Connolly opened up about leaving behind the cardkey-carrying world for a more free-minded one. Aside from having a more flexible schedule, he no longer needs to dress the part of the hard-charging, fast-talking, globetrotting fashion editor that he once was.
Connolly’s expertise was in such demand at a recent MZ Wallace event for shoppers in SoHo that he wound up staying an extra hour. Now he is in talks with other fashion companies about collaborating. He is mulling over developing aromatherapy products and plans to write a book drawing from five journals. “When I left, it felt like my identity had been ripped away. That hit me almost harder than leaving. To think your identity was tied up in that, that was a harsh reality check. Therefore, I needed to pull away to get a better perspective of myself,” Connolly said. “I’ve changed. I’m more authentic and the blinders are off. But I still love fashion — just not a lot of runway stuff.”
WWD: What do you like to wear now?
Mark Connolly: I still love my classic Indian linen kurtas [shirts]. I love wearing vests, cargo pants, wide-leg pants classic, white shirts and scarves.
WWD: Did you feel you had to dress a certain way?
M.C.: I don’t think I had to dress a certain way. I chose to dress in a certain way. There was my New York style and then there was my location style. When you’re on location, you can’t wear smart designer clothes except, of course, depending on the level of hotel where you’re staying or going out to dinner – sometimes it’s required.
WWD: Do you think your appearance made a difference?
M.C.: I like to think it made a difference. It made me feel good. A lot of us in the industry want to be perceived in a certain way. We use clothes as signifiers – to send messages that you know what’s going on, what suits you. One uses clothes to tell the story, to tell whatever you want, or to mask. But I enjoyed them. I liked my clothes. A lot of people, particularly guys, had a very signature look. I didn’t. I do now, but in a much different way. Everything is much more authentic now. I don’t have the reverence that I used to have for designer labels. I’m a little embarrassed to think that I held them in such high esteem. But I was working with designers all the time. You’re in the thick of the industry. You love what you do.
WWD: Do you keep a close eye on street style?
M.C.: I’ve discovered on my journey of self-discovery that I’m very judgmental. I thought that would soften. It has a bit. At least I smack myself when I’m looking at people and looking at what they’re wearing. I also can’t believe that I find a lot of fashion ugly now. I would find it difficult if I were an editor now choosing stuff to pull together for a story. There’s a magpie effect with things. It smells like desperation – a lot of stuff put together to shock or to create a buzz.
WWD: What do you like?
M.C.: I’m loving the junked-up, rainbow East Village girl with multicolored hair, bright-colored prints and Pop Arty. There are a lot of black guys who do that nouveau dandy that I find really cool as well. Also, people are dressing more individualistically and creating their own style. My eye is traveling in a different way. It was like a machine, a little robotic. Being enmeshed in the fashion industry, you’re on kind of a treadmill. I had tunnel vision to a degree and now it’s much broader.
WWD: Do you think more companies will have wellness specialists in-house and that the category will continue to take hold?
M.C.: It’s going that way. There’s a trend for ex-fashion people going into the wellness arena like Mindy Grossman [heading up Weight Watchers]. The Class’ Taryn Toomey has blown up and she’s ex-Ralph Lauren. Larissa Thompson, who was at Self and InStyle, is now doing Onda Beauty. Suzy Yalof, who launched Unplug Meditation in L.A. and is looking to open here. With our business being on the cutting edge, it makes sense that more people are going into wellness. When it gets more absorbed into the fashion arena, it becomes a trend. So yes, it’s nice to be ahead [laughing and tapping his pulse for effect] — finally on point.