A month after Mary McFadden mysteriously closed her signature ready-to-wear business, leaving unpaid bills and unanswered questions in her wake, the designer returned to the social circuit Tuesday night, apparently no worse for the wear.
McFadden’s name had been included among a panel discussion hosted by the Junior Committee of the American Associates of the Royal Academy Trust, an event that had been planned prior to the developments at her company. Its organizers said they had since received no indication from McFadden that she would not participate and still expected her to show up. Several of her friends said McFadden had returned to New York after a brief disappearance.
But she continued to avoid press inquiries into the state of her affairs, which made it all the more titillating to anxious guests, clearly aware of the mini-scandal, when, shortly before 6 p.m. Monday, the designer turned up at the tony Colony Club on Park Avenue prepared to discuss the fusion of art and fashion during the London Sixties pop movement.
Wearing a floor-length black pleated dress and a black velvet toreador’s jacket embroidered with gold trim, McFadden quietly took her place at the center of a panel that included the English painters Sir Peter Blake and Bill Jacklin; Valerie Steele, chief curator of the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology; and Vincent Fremont, an associate of Andy Warhol’s who is agent of sales of drawings and paintings for the Andy Warhol Foundation.
McFadden remained reserved during the beginning minutes of the discussion, taking her microphone from its perch only after the other participants had delivered their opening remarks and not speaking until she was directly asked by the moderator, Theodore Bouloukos II, whether she was already working for Diana Vreeland at Vogue in the Sixties, or if she was still in South Africa editing that country’s version of the magazine.
McFadden responded that she was still in South Africa, then expounded on the nature of fashion there versus the fast-moving youthquake taking hold in London and New York at the time, taking the panelists on an unexpected tangent about African textiles.
"History moves very slowly in Africa," McFadden said. "The clothes you would see women wearing in Africa are the clothes you see on the runways today. The fashion revolution in Africa wasn’t one. It was a slow evolution of shapes. Africans have a love of cloth, a love of fabric. Africans made the most beautiful silks. We didn’t have this incredible revolution that happened in London."But she quickly got into the spirit of subject at hand and frequently interjected her opinions about various artists and designers — Claus Oldenberg, Giorgio Sant’Angelo, Stephen Burrows and Zandra Rhodes. At other points, she sounded like the fashion equivalent of John McLaughlin. When an audience member asked the panelists who was the most influential artist or designer of the London scene, it was McFadden who answered without hesitation: "Mary Quant."
If it wasn’t already clear that, after a month of silence, the often-contentious designer had regained her firm composure, McFadden made the point that she intends to make a full return to the fashion scene. When approached following the discussion, McFadden finally confirmed that she had packed up her showroom and closed her signature business, but contradicted some points raised in stories that appeared in WWD in August.
"There are some points that should be corrected," McFadden said. "I talked to all of my employees the week before and I dismissed all of them with severance."
As reported, some of those employees said they had arrived at their showroom Aug. 12 to find it deserted and some of their personal effects missing. Several fabric vendors and contractors also have publicly said McFadden’s company owes them money and that they had not been able to reach any executives there since the business was closed.
For her part, McFadden said she is now an employee of Ben Elias Industries, which holds the year-old license of a moderate-priced suit line called the Mary McFadden Collection. The designer said she intends to continue working with that company and that the relationship will expand with a more expensive line, tentatively called Mary McFadden Black Label.
McFadden also clarified the location of her immediate whereabouts following the company’s closing. She had gone to St. Petersburg, Fla., to discuss a potential deal with the Home Shopping Network, which is based there. As for her future travels, it’s off to London Friday, followed by a trip to Las Vegas this fall to promote the Mary McFadden Collection, she said.
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