CHICAGO – On Tuesday, March 14, Hindman will auction property from the personal collection of American fashion designer Arthur McGee (1933-2019). The collection includes 45 garments and ensembles of McGee’s own design. Absentee and Internet live bidding will be available through LiveAuctioneers.
A true trailblazer in the fashion world, McGee was the first African American to run the design room of an established Seventh Avenue apparel company as early as the 1950s. While during his lifetime he did not receive the attention he deserved, McGee was later recognized as a highly influential designer, inspiring generations of African American designers through his talent and mentorship. The collection in Hindman’s March 14 Spring Fashion & Accessories auction honors the legacy of Arthur McGee and exemplifies the elegant and innovative designs for which he became renowned. The net proceeds of the collection’s sale will benefit a scholarship for emerging fashion designers from Arthur McGee Legacy, LLC.
“McGee’s own collection tells a powerful story,” said Hindman Couture and Luxury Accessories Director and Senior Specialist Timothy Long. “The distinct garments are made even more significant due to the fact that the designer behind them played a pivotal role in helping to break racial barriers in the fashion industry.”
McGee was born in Detroit, Michigan, where he was introduced to fashion through his mother, a skilled dressmaker. His potential was recognized early when he became the recipient of a scholarship to study fashion at the Traphagen School of Design in New York City, and later the Fashion Institute of Technology. During this time, McGee worked with celebrated Anglo-American fashion designer Charles James, who was at the apex of his career in New York. He also created theatrical costumes for celebrities of the stage, including Sybil Burton, Mary Ure and Josephine Premice.
As early as 1957, at the age of 24, McGee made history by becoming the first African American to run the design room of an established Seventh Avenue apparel company. By the 1960s, McGee had worked as the head designer for several clothing lines in New York and opened his own shop on St. Mark’s Place, where he began to sell his designs at major department stores.
Above all, McGee was dedicated to ensuring that the African American community would benefit from his unique career path, leading him to mentor a generation of young African American designers in the 1970s and 80s, such as Willi Smith, Stephen Burrows, Scott Barrie, Jeffrey Banks, and B. Michael. He was so influential that he became known as the The Grandfather of Fashion Designers of Color. His roster of clients had no shortage of iconic names, including Stevie Wonder, Cicely Tyson, Dexter Gordon, Arthur Mitchell, Geoffrey Holder, Charlayne Hunter-Gault and Phyllis Hyman. By this time, McGee had become a well-established and revered designer who throughout his career brought fashion to the epicenter of the racial debate and whose legacy still resonates today.
This collection at Hindman exhibits McGee’s dedication to creating clothing that was accessible to all, without compromising sophisticated style. The garments exemplify McGee’s passion for fusing the ancient with the contemporary, and his employment of everything from refined lines to loose silhouettes, many with fabrics from or inspired by Africa. While McGee was known for his classic and timeless designs, he also didn’t ignore the importance of creating practical clothes that anyone could wear.
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