Stepping into the Mary McFadden: Goddesses exhibition is akin to stepping backstage at a fashion show…but better. Ornate dresses line the perimeters of the gallery, some meticulously hand-painted, while others showcase beautiful fabric detailed with macramé and beading. McFadden infuses these skillfully crafted gowns with designs that are reminiscent of other cultures, both past and present. The artifacts of China, Africa, and other far-off, exotic places peppered throughout the exhibition continue to highlight the travels that helped influence these exquisitely designed gowns. While I can hardly say that I’m a fashion slave (for me, Gap = Couture), Mary McFadden’s exhibition not only prods at my inner fashionista, but my travel bug as well.
Since I’ve had to suppress the urge of purchasing the next plane ticket to India (à la Mary McFadden), the cheaper, and honestly, more realistic option has been to visit the exhibition as often as I can. Each trek to the gallery allows me to engage with different pieces each time, and recently, two dresses have caught my eye. Although the gown worn by Jackie Onassis greets visitors as they enter the space, the signature pleated Mari fabric with gathered sides can be overlooked amidst the sea of goddess-inspired gowns. It may just be that I’ve always been fascinated with Jackie O. (after all, we do share a first name), but the timeless design that McFadden creates only feels as though the dress has recently graced the pages of Vogue.
Poised just around the corner is the mannequin wearing my other favorite gown, one complete with hand-painted silk organza, beading, and embroidery. While the design does not really coincide with my everyday garb, I can’t help but feel drawn to the almost crescent shapes on the skirt and beautifully arranged beading on the bodice; even the cool blues and greens, with gold infused throughout, immediately attract me to look further. Aside from Jackie O., I try to imagine which celebrity might wear a Mary McFadden gown. After recently visiting it, I considered that J. Lo might wear something like this to the Academy Awards, especially after the Grecian inspired dresses she has donned in past years.
Despite playing favorites in the Goddesses exhibition, each gown truly offers something for everyone. For those who enjoy Egyptian culture, McFadden has the Cult of Osiris collection. Even wedding dresses modeled after Mongolian designs are included. Visiting the show has inspired me to add a little more “sparkle” and “style” to my Gap-esque ensemble, and I hope that everyone takes time to see this amazing exhibition and find their own inner style-goddess (cheesy, but true).
About the author: Jackie Witkowski will be a senior at DePaul University in Chicago, majoring in Art History. She is interning for the Education Department and the Library and Research Center for NMWA this summer.