If we had attended the designer’s first retrospective (which included over 60 gowns and nearly as many textiles) at the Allentown Museum this year we would have posed the question earlier. But now we ask why the many signs of McFadden’s imprint are popping up all over the fashion stage?
The designer who made a mark in the ’70s and ’80s and closed her business in 2002 chronicles her haute eccentricity in a just-out book: Mary McFadden, High Priestess of High Fashion: A Life in Haute Couture, Decor and Design. In it she reports on her innovation in textiles, a glossary of statement jewelry, and the indelible impression she left on fashion and the society worlds that she inhabits. Like Yves Saint Laurent, McFadden took design inspiration from a wealth of global cultures: Egyptian, Indian, African, Byzantine — you name it. And with the current style for heavy cultural references, her signatures (indigenous textile prints, moody majestic styling) are relevant again.
The biggest story from the McFadden archive is the spirit of her timeless Fortuny pleats. Alber Elbaz at Lanvin thought so when he sought them as direction for his Grecian pleated dress for spring. Koji Tatsuno, who designs the Madame Gres collection, most likely looked to Gres’ archive for the pleating in his spring collection, but can still attribute the hotness of the design feature to McFadden. Ditto the interest in vintage pleated dresses by her contemporary Marita by Anthony Muto. Celebrities are already on to the movement as evidenced by a sighting of Sarah Jessica Parker wearing an electric blue pleated-velvet Mary McFadden dress during her press junket last month in Tokyo. The Fortuny pleats and strong shoulders perfectly captured the dark Victoriana that’s currently edging into vogue.
And the whisper in vintages stores like Frock in New York and Decades in Los Angeles is that their collection of McFadden is hot property just ready to hit. If you can’t get them from those stores, there’s always Ebay.
Photos: Mary McFadden Fortuny pleated dress
Lanvin spring 2005