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Hempel Studios in the News!

Featured in the Frederick News Post's 72 Hours Insert.

Planned statue of renowned Frederick designer could be one of the city’s first female public sculpture

By Kate Masters kmasters@newspost.com

The woman who invented ballet flats was from Frederick.

Designer Claire McCardell also pioneered separates, sewed pockets in dresses, and popularized comfortable, durable fabrics like jersey and cotton. In an era of tight skirts and girdled silhouettes, she invented the Monastic dress, a simple frame of bias-cut fabric that hung from the shoulders and cinched loosely with a belt. Any woman who’s built a capsule wardrobe or tied a drawstring waist or depended on the same sturdy cotton work dress owes a debt of gratitude to McCardell. American designers like Donna Karan and Calvin Klein can trace their practical styles directly back to the Frederick native, said Rebecca Arnold, a senior lecturer in the history of dress and textiles at London’s Courtauld Institute of Art.

Yet many people outside the fashion industry have never heard McCardell’s name.

“I think because of her early death, and her family’s decision to close down the label, it meant she kind of disappeared from public view,” said Marita Loose, a member of the Frederick Art Club. “But in her time she was very well-known and very well-loved and highly respected in the field of fashion design.”

So respected that Loose is on a steering committee to commemorate McCardell in bronze. The designer’s relative obscurity, especially compared to her influence on American fashion, inspired a plan for a new McCardell statue along Carroll Creek. Though it’s still years from completion, the project would be one of the only public acknowledgements of the boundary-breaking dressmaker in her own hometown.

That could be considered a little surprising given McCardell’s deep roots in Frederick. She grew up on Rockwell Terrace as the only daughter of Adrian Leroy McCardell, a state senator and the president of Frederick County National Bank. She graduated from Frederick High School and studied home economics at Hood for two years. Even after she moved away, McCardell came home frequently to visit her parents and three younger brothers, said Melissa Henemyer, the program and events coordinator for The Historical Society of Frederick County. When McCardell died of colon cancer in New York, at the age of 52, the news made front-page headlines in Frederick. She was buried in her hometown, too, in a family plot at Mount Olivet Cemetery.

Loose, who graduated from Hood and worked in fashion retail, was already familiar with McCardell when the art club hosted a presentation on her by the Historical Society of Frederick County. But McCardell’s local roots came as a surprise to some of the club’s other members, who weren’t familiar with the designer’s work.

“Some people had not heard of her at all,” Loose said. “But I think she was just immediately inspirational. I mean, here you have this woman who revolutionized fashion, who continues to influence designers today, and she’s scarcely celebrated in her own hometown.”