Molly Parnis

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

Mollie Parnis (1902 or 1905 - July 18, 1992),[1] born Sarah Rosen Parnis, belongs to the first generation of American fashion designers to be known to the public by name rather than by affiliation to a department store and is best known for designing clothing worn by many First Ladies,[2] as well as the uniform of the Cadet Nurse Corps in World War II.[3]


Mollie Parnis had relatively informal training as a fashion designer, especially considering the level of commercial success she achieved. During a short stint studying law at Hunter College, Parnis worked in sales for a blouse manufacturer. Because of her keen eye for design and her intuition for amending designs to be more appealing to consumers, she was quickly promoted. In 1933, Parnis and her husband, Leon Livingston, started a company called Parnis Livingston Inc. on Seventh Avenue in the Garment District that sold women's suits and blouses. This business drew from Parnis' design expertise and her husband's experience with fabrics and textiles.[4] In the 1940s she began designing under her name only.[5]

Parnis achieved popularity through her conservative, feminine, flattering designs, which were available in department stores across the United States. In 1966 her business grossed $3 million, demonstrating her commercial success.[6] Her designs were regularly featured in fashion magazines like Vogue, Harpers Bazaar, and Vanity Fair,[7] and several articles in LIFE described her success, proclaiming that "When Mollie Parnis Thinks a Design Will Sell, It Goes."[8] Contributing to the increasing recognition of American fashion designers, Parnis often worked with noted publicist Eleanor Lambert in the Council of Fashion Designers of America and by being included in the International Best-Dressed List in 1967.[9]

Patronage of First Ladies[edit]

Parnis is most remembered for her close relationships and frequent patronage from American First Ladies. Mamie Eisenhower frequently wore dresses and suits by Parnis, including a purple gabardine suit for President Eisenhower's 1957 inauguration[10] and a black and white silk dress when she met Queen Elizabeth at the St. Lawrence Seaway in 1959.[11] She also wore a 'silky purple Molly Parnis dress [with] a Peter Pan collar' to her sixtieth birthday party in 1956.[12] The most publicized event in which Eisenhower wore a Parnis dress was in 1955, when a woman in a receiving line wore the same blue-green shirtwaist dress as the First Lady, an event that could have caused much embarrassment. Parnis is quoted saying, "I do not sell directly to any wearer, nor do I usually make one of a kind; that is what makes this country a great democracy. But I do feel that the First Lady should have something special."[13] Eisenhower and Parnis's dress, Model 448, were featured in a multi-page spread in LIFE titled "Blue-Green on the National Scene." The feature included images of women across the country wearing the dress.[14]

Lady Bird Johnson also frequently wore Parnis' designs because she could wear them in her busy life and "still look like a lady."[15] The two developed a close relationship, and Parnis was often invited to the White House for state dinners and the Johnson's ranch in Texas.[16] Parnis' designs were also included in the 1968 White House Fashion Show, which Lady Bird and her staff organized and is the only fashion show to ever be held in the White House.[17]

Museum Collections[edit]

Museum collections that include Mollie Parnis' garments are:


  1. ^ Lada, Diana "Mollie Parnis" Retrieved July 2, 2015
  2. ^ Berger, Marilyn (July 19, 1992). "Mollie Parnis, Designer, Dies in Her 90's". The New York Times. p. 36. 
  3. ^ Thurber, Jon (January 3, 2000). "Lucile Petry Leone; Led U.S. Cadet Nurse Corps". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved April 6, 2012. 
  4. ^ "Mollie Parnis - Fashion Designer Encyclopedia - clothing, century, women, suits, dress, style, new, body". Retrieved 2016-03-26. 
  5. ^ "Vintage Fashion Guild : Label Resource : Parnis, Mollie". Retrieved 2016-03-26. 
  6. ^ Inc, Time (1966-06-17). LIFE. Time Inc. 
  7. ^ "Mollie Parnis | Jewish Women's Archive". Retrieved 2016-03-26. 
  8. ^ Inc, Time (1966-06-17). LIFE. Time Inc. 
  9. ^ Grill, Theresa. "The International Best-Dressed List Hall of Fame". Vanity Fair. Retrieved 2016-03-26. 
  10. ^ Garment in collection at the Eisenhower Presidential Library, Abilene, Kansas.
  11. ^ "Queen Elizabeth with US President Dwight D. Eisenhower and his wife...". Getty Images. Retrieved 2016-03-26. 
  12. ^ "Peter Pan Collar: Where it came from and why it's back". January 20, 2012. Retrieved April 7, 2012. 
  13. ^ "Mollie Parnis - Fashion Designer Encyclopedia - clothing, century, women, suits, dress, style, new, body". Retrieved 2016-03-26. 
  14. ^ Inc, Time (1955-04-25). LIFE. Time Inc. 
  15. ^ Bess Abell, Oral History,1969, LBJ Presidential Library, Austin, TX
  16. ^ "Mollie Parnis—Miller Center". Retrieved 2016-03-26. 
  17. ^ Chrisman-Campbell, Kimberly (2014-10-10). "Why the First White House Fashion Show Was Also the Last". Slate. ISSN 1091-2339. Retrieved 2016-03-26. 
  18. ^ "Explore Texas Fashion Collection: List View UNT Digital Library". Retrieved 2016-03-26. 
  19. ^ "Collection". The Metropolitan Museum of Art, i.e. The Met Museum. Retrieved 2016-03-26. 
  20. ^ "Indianapolis Museum of Art Collection Search". Retrieved 2016-03-26. 

External links[edit]