Friday, February 1, 2013

The Mistress of Scrap & Fancy Dress

Mary Adams Makes
Party-Dress Confections
Mary Adams makes the kind of party dresses that little girls and big girls dream of. They have full skirts and pretty bodices, ruffles, flounces, layers of gossamer fabric and big, crinoline petticoats.
A ruffled underskirt of green organdy is covered with
a sheer violet fabric to create a third color through layering.
I first met Mary back in the early 80s when she had a shop on the Lower East Side next to Amy Downs, a milliner. Imagine my delight, wandering the gritty streets and finding this oasis of frilly dresses and fanciful hats. It was just the reason I had wanted to move to New York City: to discover creative people doing unique things. After having a storefront for years, Mary now works out of a studio in midtown.
Here is a circle skirt that Mary is covering with little scraps of a Liberty of London cotton fabric. Mary has a "no throw-away policy" when it comes to fabric. The sewing techniques that she uses -- quilting, piecing and applique, lend themselves to using scraps. Mary was a printmaking major in college and always remembered a professor's advice. "Never be afraid of your materials."
Stacks of cotton fabric on Mary's studio shelf.
In Mary's book, "The Party Dress," published in 2010,
 you can read what influences her designs, 
see pictures of her beautiful dresses and learn how to make
 your very own party dress!
 The Katonah Museum of Art held a fashion show
 to honor Mary and her book.
Kendell Coniaris modeled a pouf of a party dress.
 Avery Trufelman wears a wedding gown.
Avery Trufelman in a pink and
green dress trimmed with bias ribbons 
reveals a green crinoline with her fancy footwork.
Two dresses in progress in Mary's studio.
Dresses hang on a door.
Mary was has always loved the glamour of 1950s fashion.
In the early days on the LES, Mary was
able to buy wonderful cotton organdys at the
old-time fabric stores on Orchard Street, now gone.
18th century Japanese woodblock prints, like
"Pictures of a Floating World," 
have influenced her color choices.

Ruffles in a basket.
A dress for a lady in red.
This is a miniature dress that could fit a doll.
A very tall doll.
 Mary is fascinated by dolls which she
calls "Fashion Babies."
While reading a great book, Queeen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution, by Caroline Weber, I found a reference to these kinds of dolls called "Poupées de mode." Marie Antoinette used these poupées to choose clothing ensembles.
"To showcase their wares, the fashion purveyors often relied on jointed wooden or plaster poupées de mode, or "fashion dolls" -- precursors to both the store mannequin and the runway model -- outfitted in doll-sized versions of the latest Parisian styles. Commonly known as Pandoras these dolls were crucial in disseminating the latest trends coming out of the city (Paris) that was already recognized as the standard-bearer for international style."

Mary has been working with the Lower Eastside Girls Club teaching sewing and design in "Couture Camps." Recently the teenage girls made aprons, like this one, for some of the younger girls. Note Mary's trademark plastic flowers, so plentiful in the Chinese shops on the Lower East Side.

 A copper-colored frock.
 Mary displays a peek at an underslip.
In 1999, my sister, Jeanne Markel, wore a Mary Adams gown to the 71st Academy Awards. Jeanne's husband, Chris Wedge, won the Oscar that year for his animated short, Bunny. In the picture above, from left to right, Shirley Wedge, Chris Wedge, Sarah Wedge, Jeanne Markel and Nina Rappaport, the film's producer. And I just noticed, my nephew, Jack Wedge, with his back to the camera. Looks like he's wearing a blanket.

 If you would like to contact Mary,
 you may find information here.

À Bientôt Mes Amis


  1. Such a wonderful and thorough post.I i felt transported into this creative oasis of divine dresses. I found your beautiful blog from Judith of the Style Crone lovely blog. Tah nk you for sharing a glimpse into a wonderful bit of NYC!

  2. hello I seen your multi colored hat on style crone . how much are they . do you post to Ireland . thank you

  3. I felt like I was living a fantasy while reading your post. So many gorgeous fabrics, designs and colors. Mary's pieces are extraordinary!

  4. Wow! The costume just looks great. Really very well designed.

  5. What a talent. I'm useful with practical skills and it makes me so jealous of what you've been able to produce.

    Fantastic work and I'd love to see more :)

  6. Really excellent collection of dress. Looks fabulous. I like the way it is design and the colour of it.

  7. Good Morning, Carol:

    Glad to hear from you, though not glad to hear about Richard. Give him our best and wish him a rapid recovery. When I injured my knee, I found that being dedicated to the physical therapy made all the difference.

    I redid my blog on my own -- Clara is a bit too busy to help me these days! The banner is a photo of a laptop case I hooked for myself. I Photoshopped some text on top of it, then used the customize button on blogspot to change the background colors, etc. Glad you like it.

    Again, wish RIchard well from us.