Plenty of people love to shop, and pride themselves on being considered well-dressed. But becoming a devotee of fashion design is something else entirely. These three Fort Worth collectors have connected so completely with a single designer that they have invested the time, money and emotion necessary to be considered connoisseurs of a brand, a badge they wear willingly — and fabulously.
Judy Miller: Mary McFadden
When Judy Miller wants to remember some of the most special occasions in her life, she doesn’t have to rely on faded photographs or fuzzy memories. She simply has to open her closet doors. That’s where Miller keeps a collection of gowns and party ensembles, most of them made by a single designer: Mary McFadden.
“She was one of a kind,” Miller says of the socialite designer and former Vogue magazine fashion editor who rose to international fame in the 1980s, thanks to a signature style that utilized a patented “Marii” fabric pleating technique and inspiration from Grecian and Egyptian dresses.
“Each design,” Miller says, “emphasized your assets and made you feel so feminine.”
Miller discovered McFadden’s dresses at Neiman Marcus in Fort Worth, and she remembers feeling an instant connection. From the fit to the fabric, Miller loved it all, and she began buying piece after piece to wear to myriad events, from luncheons to black-tie galas — debutante balls, Jewel Charity balls, Dinner Dance Club parties and glittering evenings in New York City, Scottsdale, Ariz., and Chicago.
When she chaired charity events, she wore McFadden. When her stepdaughter got married at the Rosewood Crescent Hotel in Dallas, she wore McFadden.
Miller was able to meet McFadden in person several times, and in 1996 met with the designer personally to commission a custom cocktail suit for a surprise party Miller was planning for her late husband’s 70th birthday at the River Crest Country Club. McFadden and Miller lunched at the Neiman Marcus Zodiac Room to discuss the details. Miller confirms that McFadden’s trademark appearance was as striking in person as it was in pictures, with skin like translucent white porcelain and pin-straight sheets of ebony hair. But Miller says the designer was much more than just a dramatic persona.
“She was different, but very charming and delightful to talk to,” Miller recalls. “She was just so creative — she’d thrown all these ideas out as she was talking, and she could just look at you and know what size to make.”
About eight months after that lunch, Miller received a delicate yellow ruched silk skirt and jacket ensemble encrusted with hand-sewn crystal beading at the neck and sleeves. “It was perfect,” Miller says. That piece, which still fits, is among her favorites, although she has not worn it since that special celebration.
Miller has worn many of her gowns only once, but she admires them often and keeps them carefully cosseted with tissue in her closet. There are jackets hand-painted with trompe-l’oeil beading along with regal gowns in saturated colors adorned with layer upon layer of beads and crystals.
McFadden is no longer designing, and Miller has moved on, dressing most often in Akris (she even named her dog after the Swiss design house). Her wardrobe includes dresses from Carolina Herrera and Oscar de la Renta (whom she has met and later visited as a guest in his Dominican Republic beach home), and she recently purchased a fashion-forward topper from British design star Mary Katrantzou.
But Miller says her McFadden pieces will always hold a special place in her wardrobe, and her heart. With their simple lines, brilliant colors and couture detailing, she says, “They are works of art.”
Connie Cruce: Hermès scarves designed by Kermit Oliver
Connie Cruce would never consider herself a fashionista. Her personal style is smart and simple, involving clean lines, natural fabrics and muted colors. Yet, Cruce garners complements wherever she goes thanks to a pièce de résistance that she dons nearly every day before stepping out the door: an Hermès silk scarf designed by Kermit Oliver.
“Like pearls represent Chanel, a Kermit Oliver scarf identifies me. My outfits are elevated and have more of a ‘put together with confidence’ feel because of my Kermit Oliver scarves,” she says, noting that she often starts with a scarf selection and then chooses clothes to complement it.
Cruce says Oliver’s intricate and colorful designs speak to her because his artistry often depicts nature and the mythology of American Indian cultures and archetypes. Plus, she says, “His designs fill up the whole silk, so you can see the beauty of it, even if the tip is the only portion readily seen.”
Raised on a ranch near Refugio, Oliver was a successful artist in Houston in the 1970s and was the first African-American to have major gallery representation there. In 1978, he exited the swirl of the art world and became a postman, moving with his wife and children to Waco. While working the night shift sorting mail, well-connected friends from his Houston days introduced his work to Hermès, and Oliver became the first and only American to ever design a scarf for this legendary French design house.
Hermès scarves start as original, commissioned works of art that Hermès artisans in Lyon, France, screen-print, color by color, onto silk squares and then hand-stitch the hem. Over the years, Oliver has designed 17 scarves for Hermès, each composition more intricate than the next, and each one coveted by collectors. His first design, Pani La Shar Pawnee, debuted in 1984. His latest design, La Vie Sauvage Du Texas, debuted last year, and a portion of the proceeds benefited the Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute.
Cruce has these two designs and nine others, all carefully labeled and folded in their original boxes. She stores them in a giant wooden bureau made in part to hold these scarves and others that range from designer labels to colorful handmade fabric swaths she has collected throughout her many adventures — she and her husband once owned a travel agency and have traveled far and wide, exploring cultures and countries, and also bird watching.
She began wearing scarves out of necessity to protect her neck against drafts, and a splurge in the late ’70s at the Chanel Boutique in Highland Park Village in Dallas made her aware of how a fabulous scarf could both elevate an outfit and instill confidence. She read an article about Hermès scarves and decided to check them out, “just to see what they looked like.” The instant she was shown a Kermit Oliver scarf, she was hooked.
“Such are the scarves of the Kermit Oliver-Hermès partnership,” she says. “They have a soul.”
Now retired from the Postal Service, Oliver still lives in Waco. He made some appearances last year connected to the launch of the new scarf and a retrospective that Baylor’s Martin Museum of Art held for him. Cruce attended the museum opening but missed the chance to see him. But she hopes that she will one day meet him, and that she will be able to acquire the seven Oliver designs missing from her collection.
“My husband is always looking for something to give me for my birthday,” she says, “and he knows how much I love them.”
Dr. Asad Dean: Versace
As an oncologist, Dr. Asad Dean understands the importance of enjoying life. It’s not just something he tells his patients — it’s what he personally strives to do every day, beginning the moment he gets dressed in the morning. Dean’s closet contains clothes in a riot of color, pattern and panache. And when he wants to add a special dash to his day, he dons something from Versace.
“It’s buoyant, it’s unabashed, it’s a celebration of life,” Dean says of the Italian design house founded by Gianni Versace in 1978. “The clothes are wearable works of art.”
Versace is known primarily for womenswear, and the label’s sexy dresses have become synonymous with celebrity — think Jennifer Lopez’s barely-there green chiffon number and Elizabeth Hurley’s black safety-pin sheath. But the menswear collections were equally coveted for their style, comfort and technically innovative fabrications like leather laser-bonded with rubber.
Among Dean’s favorites are the pink suit he wore to walk the runway for Puttin’ on the Pink, an annual charity event to raise money to fight breast cancer, and a pinstriped suit. His most recent purchase: royal blue jeans from Versace’s Versus line.
Dean bought his first piece of Versace clothing in the late ’90s, when he was in New York for his medical residency. He was having trouble finding suits that fit him and discovered that Italian designers favored slimmer cuts. So he tried Versace. “What really drew me to him,” Dean explains, “is that he doesn’t care for half measures — he believes in making clear-cut choices, and that’s what his fashion evokes for me: bold, unequivocal choices.”
Although the designer was murdered in 1997 and sister Donatella took over the house, Dean stayed loyal to the brand. When he moved back to Dallas-Fort Worth in 2000, he made a beeline for the Versace boutique in the Dallas Galleria and went from an occasional customer to a confirmed collector. He has suits, ties, pants, winter scarves, fragrances and an impressive collection of coffee-table books.
He also has many special catalogs documenting runway shows, along with a VHS tape sent to him by the Versace boutique of the first collection shown following Gianni Versace’s death. Dean has purchased pieces at the flagship boutique in Milan, and even made the early morning trek from his home in Fort Worth to NorthPark Center in Dallas to be among the first in line for the Versace capsule collection at H&M.
Dean appreciates that Versace pieces don’t often display a logo or visible label. If you know about fashion, however, it’s loud and clear.
“I think it’s the color, the fabric and the energy and exuberance of the house that make it unmistakably a Versace piece,” he says. “It defines that moment, and that’s what I think is wonderful about fashion — with what you wear, you create your moment, and it is about being in that moment and putting yourself together to be memorable.”