Fashion Archeologist and Household Name: Mary McFadden

Here at the Iowa State University Textiles and Clothing Museum one of our main goals is to provide students with materials and opportunities to learn about historical textiles. We recognize that students appreciate designer names, so when we are able to provide a household name as a learning reference, we are ecstatic!

Mary McFadden is a designer that is extremely well known within the fashion industry. Her fashion career started in public relations for Christian Dior New York in 1963 (McFadden, 2011). After her time with Dior, McFadden’s brand grew exponentially and consumers have loved her designs ever since. The Textiles and Clothing Museum is pleased to share that we have just added a Mary McFadden gown to our collection.



The gown is estimated to be from the late 20th century, and is a rich red color. The top of the dress as well as the sleeves are heavily beaded with intricate and enticing detail. The bottom of the dress is heavily pleated on a bias cut.



McFadden has been deemed the “fashion archeologist” because of her ability to create art and designs that capture her experiences with exploring ancient civilizations around the world. Her international explorations began with moving to South Africa with her first husband, Phillip Harari, in 1965. McFadden states, “Diana Vreeland arranged for me to be the editor of Vogue South Africa. That job revealed a new and purposeful way of life for me, one that would otherwise have been cluttered with cocktail parties and dinners” (McFadden, 2011). Her time at Vogue South Africa was significant to her growth within the fashion industry, as she reshaped the image of the magazine and built a legacy along with it. While in Africa, McFadden would collect unique textiles and make simple garments from them, “…I continued to collect textiles. I bought fabric from the markets in Addis, Ababa, Harar, and Lalibella, Ethiopia; and in Malawi around the flame lake” (McFadden, 2011). These are the garments she began to sell because people adored the batiks and patterns printed on the textiles themselves.

Figure 2

“Wearing my early toga design made of fabric found in Jojo, Jakarta, Indonesia” (McFadden, 2011).

One of McFadden’s signature looks is Marii pleating, which is what makes up the bottom half of the dress here at the Textiles and Clothing Museum:

It was Lily who developed the technique of cutting the Marii pleated silk pinned on paper patterns. Later, I found the polyester satin-back fiber in Australia that falls like liquid gold on the body, as if it were ancient Chinese silk. The fabric was always converted and dyed in Japan, according to the inspiration of each collection, then sent back to the U.S. for the heat transfer pleating process. The pleating designs changed constantly over the years. I named the technique “Marii” pleating, a Japanese version of my name, Mary.

(McFadden, 2011)

Figure 3

“Brooke Shields in a dress by Mary McFadden, New York, November 9, 1979. Photograph by Richard Avedon” (McFadden, 2011).

The newest member of of the Textiles and Clothing Museum is sure to be a student favorite. With its intricate design details, bold color, and designer name it will draw the attention of our students and serve many purposes. We also want students to be aware of the rich history behind the name Mary McFadden and appreciate everything that she has accomplished within the fashion industry.

Link to video summary of museum exhibition titled Mary McFadden: Goddesses, hosted at the National Museum of Women in the Arts that took place in 2009:


By Dyese Matthews


McFadden, M. (2011). Mary McFadden: A Lifetime of Design, Collecting and Adventure. New York, NY: Rizzoli International Publications, Inc.


A Far Away Discovery Close to Home

Being a new graduate student at Iowa State University (ISU) working as the Research Assistant for the Textiles and Clothing Museum (TCM), I have access to a collection of history that is like no other. I am starting to gain familiarity with how things work at the TCM, but I cannot say that I have had the opportunity to explore all of the amazing items in the collection, simply because our collection is rich with objects that are all unique and special. During my first week here, I decided to look inside the storage spaces and see what interesting things I could discover. I know that I have barely scratched the surface of the items I will find within the collection, and I am eager to learn of what else is in store.

Spending some time going through the collection, it will not take long for you to stumble upon a beautiful, unique piece of history. As I began exploring the collection, I came across this breathtaking garment and immediately decided to research its history and learn how it ended up being donated to the collection.

The dress was donated to the Textiles and Clothing Museum by Jorie Ford Butler (Mrs. Geoffrey J. W. Kent) in December 1984. The garment can be described as a black and white evening dress consisting of an over-tunic and a strapless under-dress. The over tunic appears to be made of burnout pile fabric, leaving a floral design. The under-dress has a fitted bodice with a long narrow skirt. Digging deeper into the history of the dress, I found that the donation letter was signed “Butler Company¬†Oak Brook, Illinois”. Having being born and raised in the Chicagoland area, the town of Oak Brook was easily recognizable and sparked a memory of home as I start my journey here in Ames at Iowa State University.


Learning that this dress had come from somewhere close to home, I became even more intrigued and determined to learn more about it. I learned that Jorie Ford Butler is the daughter of the late Paul Butler, “multimillionaire Oak Brook founder…who in the 1940s had founded Butler Aviation Corp., once the nation’s largest general aviation company. Mr. Butler’s ancestors in 1844 had established the Butler Paper Co. in Chicago” (Goldsborough, 2014). After learning this information, the story began to unfold. Jorie Ford Butler was the daughter of a very wealthy businessman who is known in history as the man who build the town of Oak Brook, IL. Throughout my life I have often spent time in Oak Brook with my family, usually for the outdoor shopping mall and variety of restaurants. Who would have known that the first garment that I interacted with here at the Textiles and Clothing Museum would take me back to where home is? This was such an amazing discovery for me because it proved that however far away home may feel, we all live in a small world and there is always something near that can remind you of home.


Jorie Ford Butler (Mrs. Geoffrey J.W. Kent) Source:

Today, Jorie Ford Butler and her husband Geoffrey Kent are head of Abercrombie and Kent which, “allows A&K travelers private, sometimes exclusive access to museums, archaeological sites and cultural attractions around the world” (Abercrombie & Kent, 2018). She enjoys traveling and photography, as well as philanthropy work. It seems as if she is upholding the vision that her father had; to provide people with a lifestyle of luxury that will produce nothing less of heartfelt experiences and memories. The Textiles and Clothing Museum is thrilled to have a piece of her life experience with us to share with the Iowa State University Community.

By Dyese Matthews


Abercrombie & Kent. (2018). Abercrombie & Kent History. Retrieved from

Goldsborough, B. (2014, September 4). Frank Butler of Prominent Oak Brook family dies. Chicago Tribune. Retrieved from