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Gregory Speck and Mary McFadden

Susan and Alvin Chereskin

High Priestess of Fashion
Speaks Without Scissors!

Story by Edward T Callaghan
Photos by John Wegorzewski

N CONJUNCTION with its Power Dressing: Men’s Fashion and Prestige in Africa, the Parrish Art Museum in Southampton presented a special evening with a design legend, Mary McFadden, speaking on "My Odyssey: Ancient African Civilization."

The elegant, ethereal looking McFadden, no stranger to the Southampton crowd, took to the Parrish stage clad in one of her signature evening looks and immediately transported the audience back to ancient times to explain the roots of her design concepts.

Beginning with slides of an artfully draped torso found in a former Roman settlement in what is now Libya, and native women in present day Benin, McFadden explained how she was influenced by the women’s skills in draping single pieces of cloth when "there were no pins, no needles and certainly no scissors."

Flashing one of her sumptuous late ‘70s gowns, one could easily see the Greco-Roman inspiration.

Switching easily between images of African artifacts to her own creations, McFadden artfully wove a fascinating story of a contemporary design philosophy deeply rooted in history.

She spoke passionately of her "beloved Africa, land of my first inspiration" pointing out how not only her draping came from the continent but many of her prints were based on tribal markings, which Africans began to distinguish themselves from animals, as well as Coptic manuscripts.

Long famed for her pleated evening wear in luxurious fabrics, she harked back to early centuries when royals wore brilliant white linen starched and pleated on a daily basis. Now the 21st century McFadden achieves the same effect with wrinkle-free polyester chiffon!

Parrish board chairman Alvin Chereskin proudly displayed his bow tie made from the silk of an 18th century kimono. He pointed to his wife Susan and the Museum’s executive director Trudy Kramer, clad in McFadden evening jackets also made from antique Japanese textiles.

McFadden’s cousin Justine Cushing wore a vintage black and gold embroided jacket from an earlier collection.

Following the informative and very interesting lecture, McFadden signed copies of her new book, Mary McFadden, High Priestess of Fashion: A Life in Haute Couture, Décor and Design, featuring a gorgeous cover photo by Francesco Scavullo.

Seen in the enthralled crowd were Mildred Brinn, Nina Madison, Blossom Gluck, Annette Perelle, Anne DeBrigard, Mrs. Sam Campbell, James Fahnestock and Anne Bricker.

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