The Hunt Museum, Limerick launches a series of Instagram stories looking at Connolly’s techniques, colours, patterns, entrepreneurism and influencer skills …
“A woman should show her curves, not her joints,” was one of Sybil Connolly’s most famous maxims, while uncrushable linen her most famous innovation, later adopted by Issey Miyake in his Pleats Please Collection.
In the 1950s, Connolly’s designs were worn by Jackie Kennedy (as seen in an official White House portrait by Aaron Shickler), Julie Andrews, Elizabeth Taylor and Merle Oberon. More recently Gillian Anderson chose to wear one of her dresses to the BAFTAs in 2012, while Anna Clarke wore Connolly’s “First Love” gown, her grandmother’s dress for her wedding in Dublin in 2013.
Undoubtedly Connolly (1921 – 1998) was ahead of her time and, while not forgotten, she is maybe not recognised for all that she brought to the world of fashion from the 1950s to the 1980s. Having studied dress making in London, she returned to Dublin to work at Richard Alan, eventually becoming its design director. Connolly’s forte was to give new life to traditional Irish fabrics using interesting silhouettes and vibrant colours. Her designs in turn attracted the attention of American audiences and most importantly Carmel Snow, the editor of Harper’s Bazaar.
In particular Connolly’s romantic peasant looks were popular in the US. Connolly took the traditional red flannel of Connemara petticoats to form billowing peasant skirts (perhaps credited kickstarting the bohemian trend in the process). She also reimagined traditional crochet, Donegal tweed and Carrickmacross lace – persuading the nuns of Carrickmacross to dye their lace pink for her famous “Pink Ice” creation. Coincidentally, Connolly was highly religious and had a priest bless each of her collections before they were presented.
By the late 1950s Connolly employed over 100 women, many working from their homes across Ireland, making tweeds and lace. She launched her own couture collection in 1957, and moved into 71 Merrion Square, Dublin (now the global headquarters of designer Louise Kennedy) furnishing it in antiques, later sold at auction in 600 lots. When her fashions became outmoded by the shortening of skirts (she hated trousers) she changed track becoming a designer of glass and ceramics, wallpapers and textiles.
The Hunt Museum has the largest Sybil Connolly Collection in the world – bequeathed by her nephew John Connolly. In this centenary year of her birth the Hunt Museum will release a series of stories on Instagram each month. Alisson Rocha, Marketing Manager at the Hunt Museum explains: “We want to create a following for Sybil, her designs, techniques and innovations inspiring others with her story, a woman innovator in 1950’s Ireland, where, in many ways fashion was just her medium.” Each month a new story will be released focusing on her innovative techniques, and of course her very distinctive dresses still. Says Rocha: “We will add to the sum of knowledge about her, hold kids’ clubs to make her wallpapers and textiles, and have some open conservation sessions” www.instagram.com/huntmuseum
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