Friends and Family Gather in New York to Celebrate Katie Gallagher’s Life and Work

An altar for Katie Gallagher.

Photo: Jason Mendez / Getty Images

On May 18, people gathered at St. Mary’s Church on Grand street in New York City, to celebrate the life of Katie Gallagher, the fashion designer who died far before her time on July 23, 2022. Hundreds of people contributed to a GoFundMe campaign that would allow her family to hold a memorial in the city that the designer loved and called home for more than a decade. Gallagher was born in rural Pennsylvania and educated at the Rhode Island School of Design, and the dynamic between rural and urban was one of the many dichotomies that defined Gallagher. “To know, Katie was to know this toggle, the dance between opposing forces and ideas. A full embrace of the low and the high, the soft and the hard. All that was dark with what made her laugh. Somehow she was both deeply scared and fearless at the exact same time. And if you didn’t get it, she didn’t care,” said her sister Lara Gallagher. The designer’s ethereal appearance belied an artist who was not afraid to explore darkness. As photographer William Eadon, recalling his first meeting with Gallagher so beautifully put it, Katie “was the brightest, shiniest but softest and warmest light in that crowded, smokey room.”

Some of that spirit was captured in the open, familial mood, and decorations of the memorial. Beautiful arrangements flanked the altar on which a shrine was constructed with relics such as Gallagher’s favorite shoes—patent leather Carel mary-janes, sky-high platforms, and sneakers (the designer was a competitive high school track star and city jogger). At the left of the entrance was a metal dress Gallagher made in college. Her professor, Meg DeCubellis, recalled that despite the challenges working with coiled springs posed, the designer was determined to use them. After managing to find a source for them, the factory broke down, but Gallagher, in typical fashion, remained undeterred and made the coils, and then the dress, herself. As Lara, a filmmaker and storyteller herself, noted, Katie was “the super-8 of fashion” able to build a dress from the ground up, including pattern work, cutting, sewing, and embellishment.

A Katie Gallagher design with signature mesh inserts.

Photo: Jason Mendez / Getty Images

A dress by Katie Gallagher made of springs she hand-crafted.

Photo: Jason Mendez / Getty Images

A design by Katie Gallagher, embellished with hundred of pink-painted safety pins.

Photo: Jason Mendez / Getty Images

Opposite that dress, on the other side of the room, was Gallagher’s home sewing machine, a poignant reminder of the DIY spirit that animated her work, in part through necessity. “In over 13 years—26 seasons—she had never had a financial backer and she was damn proud of that,” noted Cindy Waters, a shoe designer. The cut-throat aspects of the industry didn’t go unmentioned. Like Gallagher herself, this memorial was marked by grace and grit, which celebrated the woman while acknowledging the complexities and contradictions that made her who she was.

Lining the room were examples of Gallagher’s work that demonstrated the role that complex pattern-making and attention to detail played in her designs. She was ahead of the pack in fusing her two passions, sport and fashion; and she was especially known for the use of complex mesh inserts that are now an expected feature of yoga pants. As Gabi Asfour told Vogue Runway last year, “Now every company does active and has this type of construction. I think she was a great influencer in the industry and she inspired a lot of people.” Bows (some hidden like sweet secret surprises) were another Gallagher signature, part of the “dark romance” of her world view.

Compounding the tragedy of Gallagher’s death is that it is being investigated  as a homicide. One young, brave, speaker asked what everyone was thinking: “Why would someone do this to Katie?”

While processing grief was one aspect of this NYC memorial, the other was commemoration. Gallagher lives on not only in people’s hearts, but as a maker, she also lives through the art and objects she made with her own hands. These will form the Katie Gallagher Artist Archive; and is her family’s way of preserving and expanding on the designer’s narratives. Lara, who has been cataloging the collection spoke of  discovering aspects of her sister in the process. And the same can be true for others. Looking at the pieces on view last night made this writer think of a positive message proffered by the Costume Institute’s curator Andrew Bolton, who recently said, with confidence, “I think you can know someone through their working methodology.”