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Margaret Pexton Murray, 80; Fashion Historian

TIMES SENIOR FASHION WRITER

Margaret “Maggie” Pexton Murray, a prominent fashion historian, curator and retail executive, has died. She was 80.

Murray died at her Hollywood home Monday of heart failure.

Until that day, she had put in regular hours in her position as the executive director and curator of the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising’s museum galleries.

Murray, who had heart surgery this fall, had been associated with the downtown college for more than 25 years, and, for the last 10, created its annual exhibition that celebrated motion picture costume design. She was generally ahead of the curve in picking out Oscar nominees and winners for costume design.

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“Her taste level was so pronounced that it was always extremely obvious in all of the exhibitions at [the institute],” said longtime friend, designer Michael Novarese, who lauded the one-time executive as a renaissance woman of taste, elan and style. “She also had the most direct approach in advertising. That was her claim to fame.”

The Los Angeles native became one of the first female retail executives when, in 1946, she began a 17-year career at May Co. California, where she became vice president of advertising, fashion and sales promotion.

“There were a lot of firsts in her life, in business, in advertising and in fashion,” said her nephew, Patrick Pexton.

Murray was a founder and chairman of the Costume Council at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and a onetime chairman of the museum’s Ancient Art Council. In 1989, she added “author” to her list of accomplishments when Fairchild Publications published her textbook called “Changing Styles in Fashion.”

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Though the Stanford graduate became known as a fashion historian and curator, she was mainly self taught through her years in retailing. Many knew her as a Hollywood fashion commentator or reliable, lively source for newspaper quotes, but behind the scenes she became an important figure in the conservation and appreciation of historic costume.

Times Woman of the Year in 1959

“She spearheaded the initial fund-raising campaign for what became the Doris Stein Research and Design Center,” said Dale Carolyn Gluckman, curator of costumes and textiles at LACMA, where the Stein center is located.

When Murray was named the 1959 Times Woman of the Year, she oversaw May Co.'s $5.5-million budget and directed a staff of 37. In an article commemorating her award, she told The Times that “I believe people should work.”

Though she had a strong visual memory for every detail of costume, she was never flamboyant. Instead, she preferred to wear conservative, business attire.

“If I had to use one adjective about her, I would use ‘elegant,’ ” said Pexton. “Everything she did had to be the right thing, but also the economical thing. It was not overdone.”

Friend Georgianna Erskine recalled their first meeting for the Costume Council board in 1966. “Never had anyone ever entered a room as she did. She personified elegance and style,” Erskine said, adding that Murray’s intellect and humor also won her many friends.

Murray was married to the late Lyn Murray, a composer for movies, television and radio; they divorced in the early 1980s.

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Details of the private services were pending late Thursday.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Maggie Pexton Murray Scholarship Fund at the Fashion Institute, 919 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90015.


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