These autobiographical pieces and corresponding photos are part of a special edition of 60PLUS featuring local residents who prove that fashion has no age limits.
Mary Mitchell, forever young
I was born in Buffalo, New York, to John and Irene Kafasis. After graduating as a fashion illustrator from the Albright Art School in conjunction with the University of Buffalo, I worked as the in-house illustrator at Flint & Kent Department Store for two years. I married John C. Mitchell, an attorney, and moved to Kearney, Nebraska.
My son, John, was born in Kearney. We eventually moved to Omaha where I worked at the Nebraska Clothing Co. for four years as their fashion illustrator. I started freelancing for about 15 retailers, doing advertising and illustrating their fashions in the World-Herald and Lincoln Journal. A few of the retailers I worked for were Topps, I. Eugene Shoes, The Wardrobe for Men, Goldstein Chapman, Natelson’s, Wolf Brothers, Zoobs, and Aquila.
In the 1980s, photography took over illustrating fashions in newspapers and magazines. It was a time of transition for the industry and for myself as well. I decided to put my skills to work for Mitchell Broadcasting Stations. John had acquired 16 radio stations in Nebraska, and I started working full time as vice president at our Omaha office, where I handled all the advertising and designed logos, newspaper layouts, billboards, and bus ads. During this time, we also got involved in ownership of two restaurants, Le Versailles and The Golden Apple.
In the meantime, I had saved over 1,000 of my original fashion illustrations. Our good friends, Anne Marie Kenny and Mary Jochim, saw some of them and asked me if they could find a venue to exhibit them. They pursued several venues and settled on The Durham Museum. I had a four-month exhibit at The Durham Museum in 2012, which was the impetus to write my book, Drawn to Fashion. I was very fortunate to have Oscar de la Renta write the forward to my book. The exhibit traveled to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln for one month, where the official dedication of the Mary Mitchell Fashion Design Studio took place in October 2012. All proceeds from the book, note cards, and prints of my illustrations go to scholarships for University of Nebraska students in fashion design. There are four scholarships each year, and the program will go on in perpetuity.
It is my fondest wish that the University of Nebraska scholarship fund can help pave the way for exciting careers for young people who are, today, just like I was as a child—dreaming of beautiful clothes, making them, drawing them, selling them, loving the creative life, and feeling that powerful urge to get involved—young people who are, just like I was, “drawn to fashion.”
I am so fortunate and grateful to have had a wonderful husband, John, who always urged me to follow my career and pursue my dreams. I am proud of our son, John, who is an outstanding person and doctor, our lovely daughter-in-law, Kathleen, and my exceptional grandchildren, Emily, John B., and his beautiful wife, Roxanne.
As far as aging gracefully, I would say, surround yourself with good friends, enjoy your life through thick and thin, and always strive to help one another. And, of course, pursue your dreams.
This article was printed in the January/February 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine.