Arthur L. McGee was born in Detroit, Michigan in 1933. In 1951 at the age of 18 he saw a contest being promoted by the famous Traphagen School of Design on the back of a local paper in Detroit. He entered the contest and won a scholarship to attend the school. Inspired by his mother who often created her own fashions, Arthur submitted the winning design and set his course for Manhattan. Mr.McGee went on to study at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) where he honed millinery and apparel design.
He began working for the American couturier Charles James while still a student at FIT and later produced his own designs while pursuing employment in New York ís apparel manufacturing industry. In 1957, Mr. McGee became the first African-American to run the design room of an established Seventh Avenue apparel company, Bobby Brooks. His remarkable talent and the broad appeal of his work transcended racial barriers, selling to such stores as Saks Fifth Avenue, Bloomingdale's, Henri Bendel, Bonwit Teller, Bergdorf Goodman, and Lord & Taylor. He opened his first store in the early 1960s on St. Mark' s Place in New York City where his clients included Cybil Burton and Arthur Mitchell of the Dance Theater of Harlem.
He became the designer of choice for many celebrities, including Lena Horne, Cicely Tyson, and Stevie Wonder. Known as the dean of African-American designers, Mr. McGee mentored many young talents, including Aziza Braithwaite Bey (Elena Braith) and the late Willi Smith, paving the way for designers of color.