Street Seens: Fashionista, Pack-Rat, and Honoree

Fortunately for me, my wondrous late sister Peggy is in a place of unconditional love (and at a sufficient distance) to protect me from her displeasure with my use of the headline’s second descriptive noun. 

When her actor-director daughter Meagen Fay took the stage at a recent charity event at the Bolingbroke Country Club in her hometown of Joliet, Illinois, she launched a new era in a 30-year tradition. Peggy first partnered in this perennially successful Charity Fashion Show benefiting Hospice at the invitation of her friend Jeannette D’Arcy and co-chair Julia Malloy. So, when Jeannette heard that Meagen’s months-long “archaeological dig” of Peggy’s treasure trove of a museum’s worth of vintage fashion “saves,” an idea was born. Starting with a personally curated collection of six decades of Fay women’s wardrobes drawn from the attic of the The Grey Lady, the family home of six decades plus, a “show within a show” began to take shape. 

More than a dozen selections, made by Meagen as curator of her mother’s much larger vintage collection, formed the heart of the looks that walked the runway at what thus became Peggy’s last Hospice fund raiser. The Joliet audience saw fashion finds and creations spanning the years from 1916 through 1966, preserved for decades in the attics of the historic Fay family home.  The “Fay Vintage Collection,” saved by Peggy Fay, and now saved for another era thanks to her daughter’s perceptive eye, was modeled by her daughters-in-law, grandchildren and caregiver. 

With Meagen reprising her mother’s role as commentator for all the Fay-originating vintage designs, the show within a show culminated with her revelation that her “costume” at the microphone was chosen to echo her mother’s ensemble at her last, best holiday celebration less than a month before her final exit from the stage on January 10, 2018.

The look at the Fay era opened with a glorious multi-tiered silk chiffon gown with a cascade of handkerchief hems designed, sewn, and originally worn by Helen Maloney Fay in 1916 when she came as a bride to Joliet.  Worn by her great-granddaughter Julia Fay, it set the tone for a celebration of women who dressed to be “originals.” (Opening photo).

A 1920’s bridal dress and a Dior classic of the 1940’s (above) selected by Margaret D’Arcy Turk’s daughter Sue Wright, illustrated the same spirit. Meagen reminded the audience that fashion deserves its name and longevity only when it is an expression of the wearer’s individuality and not simply a mask to help them pose as their chosen designers.

Long before Meagen was born, her mother chose to wear a raw silk dress with subtle sequins and a romantic hood for a special occasion. It was just the sort of “party dress” a student of the Sacred Heart Academy in Lake Forest in the 1940’s might select to encourage a young man invited to a “mixer” at this all girls’ Catholic boarding school to join him in a fox trot. 

Meagen recognized the ethereal Lavender-blue appliqued cocktail dress (above) as the one her mother wore in a newspaper photo on the occasion of the announcement of her parent’s 1951 engagement. 

Highlighting how high fashion can bridge multiple decades of history, the cranberry silk ball gown of the day’s event (below) had its debut in 1933 when Chicago Mayor Edward Kelly’swife, Margaret,wore it during the city’s celebration of A Century of Progressto welcome the King of Denmark to the event. Later that decade, Mrs. Kelly chose to wear it for the charity ball celebrating the 1937 Inauguration of FDR.

In her high school and college years Peggy was a frequent guest at the Kelly family’s Northern Wisconsin summer residence. Because Peggy loved the musical evenings with the Kellys, the First Lady of Chicago chose Peggy to become the next wearer of the cranberry silk designer gown and cloak. In the 1950s when Peggy was invited by Big Band Leader Frankie Carle to perform “Let’s Take an Old-Fashioned Walk” as guest soloist in his Joliet appearance, she was the last to wear that historic dress before her granddaughter Fiona Fay took it to the runway earlier this month (above). 

Meagen asked her sisters-in-law to model two “faces” of celebratory silk ensembles.  One, modeled by Cathreen Clohisy Fay (above), was originally worn at the 1966 luncheon Meagen’s grandmother and parents hosted in the lawn of the family’s home to celebrate her uncle’s First Mass at the Cathedral of Saint Raymond, where generations of her family worshipped. 

The classic, 62-year-old “little black dress” (above) came to the runway looking as timely and sophisticated on Milena Villamar Fay as it did on Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Paired with the mandatory white gloves and an elegant rose-accented black hat, it could just as easily set the tone of classic originality on the runways of the 1960s or those of 2018.

Peggy’s caregiver in her last days, Eileen Hilario, chose to model a classic hostess dress (first photo above)of an earlier era that captured the buoyancy she helped my sister maintain to the end of her days as the “First Lady of 953.”

Eileen’s daughter Christina seemed fated to wear the taupe lace with black velvet accents (above) that indicated that she and Peggy shared both their measurements and a taste for the elegant.  As Meagen’s commentary described, “this lace dress over ecru silk with velvet piped bodice and spaghetti straps and matching velvet jacket was stunning at post-World War II cocktail parties in 1948. Its elegant simplicity exudes the emerging confidence of a world coming out of the years of war.”

Should I ever actually succeed in writing the book that lives only in my imagination at this moment, it will be called “Clearing the Attic.”  I want to go on record at this moment to ask you to see it, as I will, as an homage to the generations before and after my own who have shown me what treasures are available to those “with eyes to see.” And of course, hearts to recognize.  

Photos from the Hospice debut of the Fay Vintage Collection honoring Margaret Cunningham Fay, curated and commentated by her daughter and worthy successor Meagen Fay, were provided by Edward C. Fay, Sr, the third generation President of CMC-America.

About Annette Sara Cunningham (119 Articles)
Annette Sara Cunningham comes to Street Seens and Woman Around Town as a “villager” who migrated from Manhattan, Illinois to Manhattan 10065. She is currently the recovering ringmaster of a deliberately small three-ring enterprise privileged to partner with world-class brands to make some history as strategist and creative marketer. The “history” included the branding, positioning and stories of Swiss Army’s launch of watches; Waterford Crystal’s Millennium Collection and its Times Square Ball; the Orbis flying eye hospital’s global assault on preventable blindness; the green daring that in a matter of months, turned a Taiwan start up’s handheld wind and sun powered generator into a brand standing tall among the pioneers of green sustainability; travel to Finland’s Kings’ Road and Santa’s hometown near the Arctic Circle; the tourism and trade of Northern Ireland; and the elegant exports of France. She dreamed at age 12 of being a writer. But that dream was put on hold, while she became: successively, teacher of undergraduate philosophy, re-brander of Ireland from a seat at the table of the Irish Government’s Export Board; then entrepreneur, as founder and President of ASC International, Ltd. and author of Aunts: a Celebration of Those Special Women in our Lives (soon to be reborn as Aunts; the Best Supporting Actresses.) Now it’s time to tell the 12-year old that dreams sometimes come true.