Sybil Connolly

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Sybil Connolly
Sybil Connolly Irish fashion designer.jpg
Born (1921-01-24)January 24, 1921
Died 6 May 1998(1998-05-06) (aged 77)
Occupation Fashion designer
Notable credit(s) Honorary doctorate National University of Ireland, 1991[1]

Sybil Connolly (24 January 1921 – 6 May 1998) was a Dublin-based fashion designer who was known for creating haute couture from Irish textiles, including finely pleated linen and Carrickmacross lace, and later for her work with brands such as Tiffany & Co.. Her fashion label's famous clients included Jacqueline Kennedy.[2]

Said to have put Irish fashion on the map, she was described by former Taoiseach (prime minister) Jack Lynch as: "a national treasure".[3]

Early life and career[edit]

Sybil Connolly was born in Swansea.[2] Her father was an Irish insurance salesman and her mother was of English and Welsh descent.[4] Her education came largely from her Welsh grandfather and private tutors.[4] Her father died while she was a teenager and the family moved to Ireland, where she spent two years at a convent school.[4]

Her interest in fashion drew her to London where she worked for the prestigious firm of Bradley & Co – whose clients included Queen Mary. Connolly would attend Buckingham Palace fittings where she was allowed to hold the pins.[4][3] Returning to Ireland in 1940, she worked for Richard Alan in Dublin, replacing the head designer in 1953. There her work was spotted by American buyers.[4]

Establishment of label[edit]

Connolly held her first major show in 1953. It was a huge success – thanks in part to Harpers Bazaar editor Carmel Snow. It was attended by American press and buyers and her career took off rapidly after that, especially in the United States.[5][6] When she travelled to the US later that year, the cover of Life featured Anne Gunning in one of her crochet dresses and a full length red cape with the coverline: 'Irish invade fashion world'.[6] Connolly officially launched her couture label in 1957; she was 36.[6]

Part of Connolly's success may be attributed to her flair for publicity.[5] She was also a glamorous advert for her brand – a 1954 feature in Housewife magazine gushed: "this fairytale person has looks. Short curling dark hair. Eyes the brown of peat...And a model figure too".[7] She was made part of the International Best Dressed List Hall of Fame in 1965.[8]

As her profile continued to rise in the United States, so did her client list – with Julie Andrews and Elizabeth Taylor wearing her clothes.[6] Notably, Jacqueline Kennedy wore a Sybil Connolly creation when she sat for an official White House portrait.[2] Many of her designs were sold, via private shows, to prominent social names such as Rockefeller and Dupont family members.[4]

Among her assignments was to redesign habits for three orders of nuns – the Sisters of Mercy in the United States and two Irish orders.[4]

Brand hallmarks[edit]

Connolly was adept at reworking traditional Irish fabrics and styles – including peasant blouses, flannel petticoats and shawls – to give them contemporary appeal and glamour.[4][3] Perhaps her most distinctive contribution to fashion was pleated handkerchief linen – as worn by Jackie Kennedy in the official White House portrait – it took up to nine yards of Irish linen handkerchiefs to create one yard of the uncrushable pleated fabric that she pioneered.[6][3] Designs were created in Ireland, and Connolly employed up to 100 women, mostly crocheting and weaving in their own homes.[6] Although there was intricate craft in her designs, prices were lower than the typical European couture label.[6]

Later career[edit]

Her home, number 71 Merrion Square – which she described as "the house that linen built" – became a showcase for her taste and private clients would be served jasmine tea by a butler called James.[6][3] Located in one of the most fashionable areas of Dublin, it was what she called a "shop window for Ireland".[4] In the 1980s, Connolly began designing for luxury goods makers Tiffany & Co, Tipperary Crystal, Brunschwig & Fils and Schumacher.[4]

In 2012, Connolly's work attracted renewed interest when actor Gillian Anderson wore a vintage dress by the designer for the BAFTAs.[9]


  1. ^ "NUI honorary degrees awarded" (PDF). National University of Ireland. Retrieved 16 August 2014. 
  2. ^ a b c Tierney, Tom (1985). Great Fashion Designs of the Fifties. New York, NY: Dover Publications. p. 17. ISBN 0486249603. 
  3. ^ a b c d e staff (14 May 1998). "Sybil Connolly". The Economist. Retrieved 16 August 2014. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Nemy, Enid (8 May 1998). "Sybil Connolly, 77, Irish designer who dressed Jacqueline Kennedy". The New York Times. Retrieved 16 August 2014. 
  5. ^ a b Guinness, Desmond (28 May 1998). "Obituary: Sybil Connolly". The Independent. Retrieved 16 August 2014. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h Drohan, Freya. "Sybil Connolly: international fashion icon". womensmuseumofirelandie. Women's Museum of Ireland. 
  7. ^ Cheyne, Margaret. "Fashion with an Irish brogue". Sheepandchick blogspot. Retrieved 16 August 2014. 
  8. ^ Vanity Fair
  9. ^ "Sybil Connolly – Ireland's first great fashion designer". Glamour Daze. Retrieved 16 August 2014. 


  • Connolly, Sybil Irish Hands: The Tradition of Beautiful Crafts, Hearst Books, 1995

External links[edit]