Clothing design has always been a passion of mine since I was a child growing up in a small West Texas town. I learned to sew when I was a very young. I made paper dolls out of Vogue and Harper's Bazaar magazines. I went to fashion design school and had my own label of one-of-a-kind wearable art, presenting trunk shows in Santa Fe during the opera season.
It was a dream come true when I was hired as a development officer at Phoenix Art Museum in 1990. And it was here that the lives of two amazing women with impeccable fashion sense and appreciation intersected with mine.
My family was friends with Sybil and Don Harrington and I was familiar with her many contributions to Phoenix Art Museum. I had visited her homes in Amarillo, Texas, and in Phoenix. Amarillo was an active community with balls and philanthropic activities filling its social calendar and despite its size, the women there had tremendous fashion savvy. I was aware of Mrs. Harrington and of the many designer pieces she had given to the Arizona Costume Institute.
As an employee of the museum, I got to know Costume Design Curator Jean Hildreth. Jean reminded me of my Philadelphia grandmother who was so prim and proper. One of my fondest memories of being in the presence of Jean Hildreth and Sybil Harrington was when the museum brought fashion designer Louis Feraud, a friend of Mrs. Harrington’s, for a special runway-like evening. Mrs. Harrington wore a gorgeous gold Feraud gown to the event that was a fundraiser for the museum. She announced a large gift and challenged everyone to match her donation. It was magical evening when guests were dressed in their favorite designer outfits.
Jean’s retirement was another event when both these remarkable women were present. The museum staff and ACI members had organized a tea at the Ritz Carlton to honor Jean. I will never forget how humbled Jean was to have Mrs. Harrington attend. Mrs. Harrington wore Chanel all of her life. On this occasion she was decked. She wore the two-toned pumps, carried a beautiful quilted handbag and she wore strands and strands of pearls on the most elegant classic Chanel black suit. When I had the opportunity to select a favorite garment for display at the annual ACI Holiday Luncheon, I selected a cocktail dress that Mrs. Harrington wore in the 1960's in Amarillo at her neighbor and best friend, Betty Biven’s iconic annual holiday party.