December 12, 1988 12:00 PM

Within two years of her arrival at PEOPLE, photo researcher Mary Fanette had already set a record of sorts. Says her boss, picture editor M.C. Marden, “Mary has cheerfully looked at more pictures of Princess Diana than any sane living being on the planet.” Fanette’s work on last spring’s special issue on Princess Di—which she researched single-handedly—convinced Marden that “Mary should be cloned. She’s the consummate professional: dogged, energetic and honest.”

Senior editor Mark Donovan, who supervised this year’s Best-and Worst-Dressed cover story, was tempted, on occasion, to rue such virtues. He was the one who had to review all the pictures Mary offered up. Then he chose the ones that were submitted to our panel of celebrity judges—selected for their unique fashion sense. Fanette’s diligence in searching for that magic moment when a pouf failed to flatter or a mini reached new heights became Donovan’s late nights. “She’s determined and dedicated,” he says with weary admiration, “and, on this story anyway, almost too thorough.”

Fanette started early, keeping an eye out all year as she researched Star Tracks (another of her regular responsibilities) for fashion’s victims and victors. Then, in October, she began pulling in 4,000 more photos of the prime suspects from photographers and agencies in the U.S. and abroad to make sure that no fashion crime would go unreported, no fashion triumph unsung. “You don’t get tired, because you’re always looking for something better, the great picture nobody has seen before,” she says of her daunting task.

A native of Beaumont, Texas, where her father worked for the Gulf States Utilities while her mother raised four kids, Fanette went north before coming east, studying art history at the University of Minnesota. After a stint in the department of photography at the Museum of Modern Art, she began working at the Time-Life Picture Collection in 1982. Two years ago she came to PEOPLE.

Fanette, 38, who lives on Manhattan’s Upper East Side and sings in amateur choruses around the city, describes her own fashion taste as “conservative.” So her search for the photo worth a thousand catty words was motivated by a sense of wonder as well as professional zeal. “What mystifies me the most,” she says, “is how people with enough money to buy the best clothes somehow come up with these outfits that should never have left the store.”

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