NEW YORK — Mallory Kean, Badgley Mischka's muse and first fit model, was killed in a car accident early Friday morning in Warren, N.J. She was 52.
Kean was traveling alone when her vehicle was hit by another car in the eastbound lane of I-78, and then both vehicles were struck by an oncoming tractor trailer. She lived in Far Hills, N.J.
Born Mallory Blimm, she was raised in New Jersey, where as a child she learned to ride horses. She attended Bard College and dabbled in waitressing on the eastern shore of Maryland, but after a few semesters returned to New York in the early Eighties. It was around that time Kean first met Mark Badgley and James Mischka, when the two designers were first finding their way on Seventh Avenue, and she became their showroom fit model.
Badgley said, "We had seen so many girls and then the agency sent Mallory up. There was nothing else like her. She was so special, so sophisticated and she personified the clothes we were doing. She would go to all these black ties and she would be so ravishing."
He said patience was among her many virtues.
"She would be standing in front of the mirror for countless hours," Badgley said. "It was such a trial-and-error thing going on then and she was just so fun and so smart. She would stand there with her long gorgeous legs and her tall Manolo Blahniks, and she was just a dream. She looked like a sketch."
Longtime friend writer Michael Gross said she was also a woman of substance.
"She was a woman who was as smart as she was well-dressed. That's how rare she was," said Gross, who befriended Kean when they were teenagers hanging out at Max's Kansas City nightclub. Her ability to light up a room was not something that faded as the years marched on, he said. "She was the kind of person who could walk into the hottest restaurant in New York without a reservation, as she did recently at La Esquina with her husband, and within half an hour she would not only be at a table but every man and woman in the place would be trying to pick her up."Kean, a former editor of Country magazine, and her third husband, Robert "Roy" Winthrop Kean 3rd, lived in a house filled with shelves of books, especially ones about her three favorite subjects: fashion, New York society and great families.
Her vintage couture finds from Balenciaga and Mainbocher made her fodder for The New York Times' lensman Bill Cunningham and other fashion photographers, but the publicity didn't stop her from laughing at her own expense. When a photo of her in a gigantic gray hat at the Central Park Conservancy's luncheon last year appeared online, she referred to it as "The Hat That Ate Manhattan," Gross said.
Another friend, Mark Gilbertson, said style was always a main ingredient in Kean's own entertaining, whether at dinner with friends at home, "long, long Easter lunches" or tailgates at Winterthur's annual "Point to Point" race in Delaware.
"The food was not very filling but it was always stylishly displayed," Gilbertson said. "Even though you might not know what everything was, it was very chic. There were no subs."
Kean's fund-raising ties to the Museum of the City of New York and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center kept her active on the New York social circuit. She and her husband spent a good deal of time in the city, and were always going back and forth between New York and New Jersey, Gilbertson said.
"Her friends weren't from any one kind of background," he added. "They were eclectic. She had a mixed bag of friends."
Judging from an Oscar Wilde quote she sent Gross for no particular reason in an e-mail, that may have been by choice. "The world is divided into two classes: those who believe the incredible and those who do the improbable," the e-mail read.
Kean is survived by her husband and three stepchildren.
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