Sunday, January 18, 2015

Fashion Focus: Mary McFadden

Mary McFadden,Vogue (August 1968)
Photo: Sam Haskins
Mary Josephine McFadden was born on October 1, 1938 in New York. She is an American fashion designer, art historian, art collector, and writer. McFadden launched her career in the 1970s. She is known as one of the most exotic, unorthodox designers in the United States.
Mary spent her childhood in Memphis. Mary's grandmother introduced her to fashion by bringing her to see Paris couture collections as a young teenager. At 19, she began working for Dior as Director of Public Relations.
Mary's career in fashion and journalism allowed her the opportunities to travel the world. She was Merchandising Editor and Photographer for Vogue (South Africa) and Travel and political columnist, Rand Daily Mail (South Africa) in the 1960's. While in Africa, she began making clothes because she couldn't find any she wanted to wear. She has said that she went into fashion "by chance" when she was photographed in these clothes in New York. These pieces eventually became part her first collection for Henri Bendel in 1973.
Mary worked as Special Projects Editor for Vogue New York in 1970 before starting her company in 1976. She drew her inspiration not from the fashion trends of the day, but rather, art, Asian, African, Middle Eastern, and ancient Greek history and her worldwide travels. She created her couture and ready-to-wear designs using foreign textiles. Her signature looks utilized hand-painted fabrics, silk pants and pleated and embroidered gowns. She later expanded her brand to include home decor, jewelry, and apparel. 
McFadden launched her home furnishings collection in 1978.  She based her home decor line on the textile of her fashion collections. Her jewelry included hand-forged brass dipped in 22-carat gold. As with her dresses, Mary developed these processes to reflect ancient Egyptian, Greek, Chinese, Roman and pre-Columbian civilization techniques.
This video includes vintage footage of McFadden's runway shows and an interview with McFadden. She discusses her design inspirations and style.
Inside Fashion: Mary McFadden, 1984
One of her signature styles introduced in 1975 was the ‘Marii’ pleated dress worn by high society ladies including Jacqueline Onassis. She used a synthetic fiber to create a permanent pleated textile. This synthetic fabric was made in Australia, dyed in Japan and pleated in the United States. She trademarked the process that took 4-5 years to perfect. In her words, "the effect I'm searching for is to have the fabric fall like liquid gold against the body."

Photography by Zandy Mangold
McFadden built her brand into a multimillion-dollar empire with her cultural inspirations and extension art collection. McFadden frequently modeled her looks and was photographed by legends such as Horst P. Horst and Richard Avedon. She is revered in the fashion and art world and became a highly incredible influencer. 

Mary held numerous prestigious fashion and writer acknowledgments. She served as Council of Fashion Designers of America from 1982-83. She was also honored as a Coty Hall of Fame Inductee in 1979. (See Sources for a detailed list of career accolades and highlights.)

Photos: 1st Dibs

McFadden's life and work are chronicled in her books "Mary McFadden: The High Priestess of High Fashion, A Life in Haute Couture, D├ęcor, and Design" (2004) and "Mary McFadden" (2012).

McFadden discontinued her couture work in 2002 as a result of lagging sales and focused on her new ready-to-wear collections. Her work can still be found today in featured collections with companies such as ML FursAt 76-years-fabulous, Mary lives in Manhattan and still travels and writes. Although historical civilizations were the inspiration behind Mary's looks and textiles, her vintage designs remain classic and are unique pieces to include in your collection.

Le Thrift Consignment Boutique carries gorgeous Mary McFadden pieces, two of which are listed in our online eBay store. Click on pictures or captions below for more information.

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1821 W. Chicago Ave., Chicago IL 60622
(312) 912-9676
Chicago's top upscale consignment boutique.

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