Mary McFadden was born in New York in October 1938. She went to Paris to study at the Ecole Lubec and the Sorbonne. In 1957, she attended New York's Traphagen School of Design, before taking a sociology degree at Columbia University.
Her first job was in public relations for Dior.
She married an executive for DeBeers Diamonds who lived in South Africa, so she took up a position in South Africa as merchandising editor for Vogue. Her second marriage took her to Rhodesia, where she founded a workshop for local artists. She returned to the USA in 1970 and worked as a special projects editor for Vogue. Many of her designs, made along the lines of clothing seen on her travels, appeared in the pages of Vogue.
In 1973, she presented to the public, her first designs which were based on African and Oriental fabrics. This attracted a great deal of attention. Henri Bendel store, bought many of her silk jackets and batik coats.
She formed her own company in 1976 and gained a reputation as a designer of individual, original jackets, coats and dresses based on peasant designs of the Middle East and Asia.
Like most contemporary designers, McFadden has ventured into other products like pleated scarves, dress patterns, eye wear, upholstery fabrics and wallpapers. Her style of interior decoration, as she practices it for herself and others, makes use of the very objects that inspire her fashion collections.
She is also known for her easy sportswear, and hand-painted skirts.
In March 2002, the Fashion Week of the Americas (FWA) at their show in Miami, presented a Lifetime Achievement in Fashion Award, to Mary McFadden. She was the first non-Hispanic recipient. In conjunction with the award, Mary presented her Fall 2002 collection to more than 500 celebrities and VIPs.
In July 2002, Mary McFadden decided to discontinue her Couture work which she had been doing for 30 years, and concentrate on the Ready-to-Wear business which she had started in September 2001, and was doing very well. Couture garments were not so successful, so she decided not to make any more.
She used lavish fabrics, especially hand-printed silks, and since 1975, has experimented with pleating fabrics which, when made into dresses, resemble FORTUNY gowns. McFadden has been acclaimed for her evening gowns and intricately quilted and decorated jackets. Her collections always have the McFadden signature, a macramé insert, a knotted belt, a ruffled edge. In every collection there are dresses in striking combinations of black and white.