On April 17, 2010, Legacies was inaugurated with an elegant fundraising event at the Fashion Institute of Technology where Arthur McGee, dubbed “the grandfather of African American fashion designers”, was celebrated. He was presented with our first Legacies Award by actress Cicely Tyson, and he was also presented with the Fashion Institute of Technology’s “President’s Lifetime Achievement Award” by former New York State Comptroller H. Carl McCall.
After an elegant reception and heartwarming speeches, admirers and friends of Mr. McGee moved to a special screening room to view “Valentino, the Last Emperor” with filmmaker Matt Tyrnauer on board to introduce the film and to draw parallels between McGee’s and Valentino’s fashion careers.
BIO – EXCERPT FROM https://www.bleumag.com/2019/07/30/remembering-arthur-mcgee/
Arthur McGee, passed away at age 86 on July 1, 2019, at Amsterdam Nursing Home in Morningside Heights. McGee worked with high end retailers including Saks Fifth Avenue, Bloomingdale’s, and Bonwit Teller. He was best known for his practical, yet fashionable and timeless pieces. McGee later became known for designing costumes for both Broadway and the Dance Theater of Harlem. He created a path for designers of color, mentoring students and designers on an international scale.
Starting out in the 1950’s, McGee was told there was no place for him. His mother, who was a dressmaker in Detroit, inspired him to further his education in design. As a teenager, McGee found joy in making hats for his mother to wear. So, at the age of 18, he entered and won a scholarship to the Traphagen School of Fashion in Manhattan. Later, he attended the Fashion Institute of Technology. “I stayed in school for maybe six months, then I quit because they said to me, ‘There’s no jobs for a Black designer,’” McGee said in a video feature for the Met.
Of course, this didn’t stop him from pursuing his passion. McGee decided to open up his own shop on St. Mark’s Place, and later in Miami. In the late 60’s, and early 70’s, he served as the lead designer for the brand College Town in Boston and others. From there, he was sought after by Broadway and the Dance Theater of Harlem to design costumes. A known model and fan of McGee, Cicely Tyson, said in tribute to his designs, “When I wore them, I always felt like I was floating.”
The bulk of his work came from the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s, yet still transcends time. McGee will always be known for his ability to break the mold. The former curator of the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Harold Koda, told The New York Times, “his confidence in his own talents was like water seeping into the hard rock of racism – effortless seeming, but effective in breaking through.”
McGee once notably said in a an interview with Newsweek, “We are not ‘Black’ designers but American designers, the way Bill Blass in an American designer… As soon as you categorize us, you can erase us.”