Designer Katie Gallagher’s Family Creates Archive in Her Memory

Having spent last week walking the streets of New York preparing for her sister Katie Gallagher’s memorial, Lara said ”heartbreaking as that is, there’s comfort there too.”

About 150 friends, colleagues and relatives paid tribute to Gallagher Thursday night at Saint Mary Grand, where examples of her designs were on display, as well as personal belongings like her high school cross country Nike spikes — embroidered with her name and still dusted with dirt from her last race. A favorite red jacket emblazoned with “Chasing Dreams” was also on view.

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Having spent the past 10 months photographing and cataloguing 550-plus garments that had been stowed away in a storage unit in Los Angeles, where the designer lived briefly, her filmmaker sister Lara said, “For her to have kept all that despite moves and instability, she just knew her worth and that it was important from the very beginning.”

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MAY 18: Katie Gallagher's fashions are displayed on mannequins during the memorial service held for NYC designer Katie Gallagher on May 18, 2023 in New York City. (Photo by Jason Mendez/Getty Images)
Gallagher’s fashions were displayed on mannequins during the memorial service.

Driven by the conviction that Gallagher would have want something to be held in New York, Lara said, “She would just want more, more, more — now. She was always pushing and planning. She was so full of promise. That was somewhat, due to her age, as well as [despite] what she had accomplished, she hadn’t reached where she wanted to go. For that to be taken away is heartbreaking to wonder what would have been possible, when someone is young, single and had so much life left to live.

“Katie just had an amazing amount of energy. She did not want to quit, did not want to quit,” her sister said.

Although the independent designer occasionally suited up celebrities like Lady Gaga for select appearances, she never was widely known. Despite that, her death last summer at the age of 35, which was deemed a homicide in March and continues to be investigated by the New York City Police Department, prompted interest in her career.

The New York City’s chief medical examiner’s office determined the cause was due to ”acute intoxication by the combined effects of fentanyl, p-fluorofentanyl and ethanol.”

To try to preserve Gallagher’s designs, her family has established the Katie Gallagher Artist Archive, which was approved for fiscal sponsorship by Fractured Atlas in March. By documenting and contextualizing her works, 26 collections and such materials as sketches and inspirations, the archive is meant to provide better insight into her creative process and to celebrate what she accomplished during her life. Through a partnership with Fractured Atlas, the aim is to secure grant funding, corporate sponsorships, and additional individual support to further the work.

As the family seeks curators and museums for some of her designs and to share her work in other ways, plans are underway to line up an intern through California State Long Beach’s master’s program in textile archiving to help suss out a plan.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MAY 18: Lara Gallagher and Marlee Gallagher speak during the memorial service held for NYC Designer Katie Gallagher on May 18, 2023 in New York City. (Photo by Jason Mendez/Getty Images)
The designer’s sisters Lara Gallagher and Marlee Gallagher addressed guests in New York City last week.

During Thursday’s tribute, Gallagher’s family and friends shared insights and memories of her life. A high school friend’s 10-year-old son asked the still unanswerable question of, “Who would do this to Katie?” according to Lara. Later the celebrant of the memorial, Jamie Thrower, a Portland, Oregon, death doula, led attendees on a procession to Gallagher’s former Chinatown apartment building for a burning ritual with candles and smudges made from dried flowers from Gallagher’s funeral last summer.

“This was Katie’s city. She just knew where to get everything — every button, every kind of flower. She walked everywhere. She didn’t ride the subway. She just walked and walked and walked. That’s why the procession was so important,” her sister said.

Not wanting to speak too much about the homicide investigation into her sister’s death, Lara said the family is still in touch with the NYPD and the Manhattan district attorney, and “are hoping for news soon.”

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MAY 18: Atmosphere at the memorial service held for NYC Designer Katie Gallagher on May 18, 2023 in New York City. (Photo by Jason Mendez/Getty Images)
Personal memorabilia was displayed at the memorial service held for Gallagher.

Lara said, ”Her life was her work. She would want to be remembered for her work, tenacity and what she was able to accomplish on her own, never having a financial backer or investor. She went to RISD, but she was completely self-taught.”

Her inclination to work “so hard” can be seen in the obsession with patternmaking, fit and wanting to know how to do everything, because she didn’t know who to rely on or to ask, Lara said. “She always talked about how fashion wasn’t the end goal. It was about stories, and her shows were about the music, the tone, the lighting and the world that she was creating rather than any one garment,” Lara said.

Katie Gallagher RTW Fall 2019
Katie Gallagher RTW Fall 2019

The designer loved old ladies and often talked with her sister about how they too would be ones. “I knew she was going to be a tiny, really fashionable, amazing old lady in New York, wearing gloves. That she’ll never be that is tragic.”

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