January 24, 1921|
|Died||6 May 1998
|Notable credit(s)||Honorary doctorate National University of Ireland, 1991|
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.
Early life and career
Sybil Connolly was born in Swansea. Her father was an Irish insurance salesman and her mother was of English and Welsh descent. Her education came largely from her Welsh grandfather and private tutors. Her father died while she was a teenager and the family moved to Ireland, where she spent two years at a convent school.
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. 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.
Establishment of label
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. 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'. Connolly officially launched her couture label in 1957; she was 36.
Part of Connolly's success may be attributed to her flair for publicity. 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". She was made part of the International Best Dressed List Hall of Fame in 1965.
As her profile continued to rise in the United States, so did her client list – with Julie Andrews and Elizabeth Taylor wearing her clothes. Notably, Jacqueline Kennedy wore a Sybil Connolly creation when she sat for an official White House portrait. Many of her designs were sold, via private shows, to prominent social names such as Rockefeller and Dupont family members.
Connolly was adept at reworking traditional Irish fabrics and styles – including peasant blouses, flannel petticoats and shawls – to give them contemporary appeal and glamour. 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. Designs were created in Ireland, and Connolly employed up to 100 women, mostly crocheting and weaving in their own homes. Although there was intricate craft in her designs, prices were lower than the typical European couture label.
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. Located in one of the most fashionable areas of Dublin, it was what she called a "shop window for Ireland". In the 1980s, Connolly began designing for luxury goods makers Tiffany & Co, Tipperary Crystal, Brunschwig & Fils and Schumacher.
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- Vanity Fair
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- Connolly, Sybil Irish Hands: The Tradition of Beautiful Crafts, Hearst Books, 1995