The National Museum of Women in the Arts pays tribute to Mary McFadden
By Donna Shor
“So, Mary McFadden arrives at the Queen of Thailand’s palace with just a handbag and the clothes on her back…,” Esther Coopersmith recalled at her recent dinner in the legendary designer’s honor.
Gowns worth $50,000 had gone astray, to be found only after the need to wear them had passed. Queen Sirikit, who had heard much about the fashion icon’s latest creations, was disappointed there was nothing to see. “Not to worry,” Esther reassured us, “Mary found a beautiful length of silk, draped it around herself, took a few stitches, and looked fabulous.”
McFadden still looks extraordinary. Oval-faced, with pale, smooth porcelain skin and her signature coiffure (short and chic, crowned by a narrow black braid of her hair), apparently unchanged since this writer last saw her 20 years ago, she remains as timeless as her designs.
Her education and travels have added depth and richness to her work. Born into a well-to-do Memphis cotton family, she was educated at Foxcroft, the Sorbonne, the Traphagen School of Design, the Dante Alghieri Institute in Rome, and studied sociology at New York’s Columbia University and New School for Social Research.