Harold Koda, curator of the Costume Institute, Metropolitan Museum of Art has said, “McFadden’s designs convey her deep interest in distant cultures and times….(she) reflects in her designs an archeologist’s fascination with the cultures and narratives expressed through art.”
I’ve long been an admirer of McFadden’s elegant garments, and the way she combines a broad range of cultural references with her elegant style.
The designer is now 70, and had been a unique contributor to American fashion since her New York debut in 1974 (she closed her showroom in 2002). The exhibit contains 40 of her couture gowns, along with the many of the textiles and objects that have inspired them. Her inspiration is wide-ranging – from Egypt to South America to Central Asia to China to Ireland and beyond – and it’s fascinating to see how she works these references into her garments – in silhouette, in fabrication, and in embellishment.
I first came face-to-face with one of her garments years ago. A client had a Mary McFadden gown that needed to be altered. It was a fairly typical McFadden design – the skirt out of the finely pleated polyester charmeuse (her signature fabric), the bodice strapless and heavily embroidered. The bodice had to be taken in, and I was interested to see just how such heavy embroidery had been supported. Once I got inside, I could see that heavy crinoline (imagine heavily starched gauze) had been used as one of the inner layers. It made sense – had the underpinnings been any less sturdy, the bodice would have lost its shape, and the garment would have…