Sybil Connolly, Irish Designer – A Career ‘That Linen Built’Hannah Greenwood
Sybil Connolly has been rightly credited with putting Irish fashion on the map as her designs travelled the globe and made waves in the fashion world. Her most famous creation was The First Love dress. Made from what seemed to be her favourite material to work with, pleated handkerchief linen, it held within its elegant and ethereal length, over five thousand pleats. This piece simply wowed the fashion world and was described by Time magazine as “the dress that brought the house down”. This Sybil Connolly dress certainly is a truly loved vintage piece that was famously worn as a wedding dress in 2013 when one of the original dresses was repaired and restored and passed down to a new generation.
However, this is just one of the Irish Designer Dresses she famously created. In 1970 Jackie Kennedy posed for an official White House portrait, and choosing to wear a dress that evoked a feeling of another time and place, far away from the fast-paced world that then surrounded her, and almost holding her at that moment in time. That dress was a Sybil Connolly dress that also made beautiful use of pleated handkerchief linen, a very light material, perfect for creating this kind of tone.
Her designs caught the attention of other famous names such as Elizabeth Taylor and Julie Andrews, and soon her fame and fortune grew.
Just after the second world war had ended women, who had successfully held the jobs of their former men and boys, husbands and sons, were expected to go back to their old work within the home, and not encouraged to pursue any sort of career. During a time when female employment and feminism was in a difficult stage, Sybil Connolly was said to have provided employment to around 100 women who were engaged to weave tweed and create handmade lace at home. This in itself demands recognition, as today the clothes industry, and in this authors opinion, is sadly lacking the beauty of homemade items and traditional methods and crafts.
At the end of her career she bought a home back in Dublin, the city that provided her with her first break, where she designed her first collection for the Dublin store Richard Alan. Here is where she first caught the attention of American buyers. From her home she served a private clientele, with the help of her butler, James. She aptly labelled her home “the house that linen built”, giving full recognition to the material she used the best.
Other Sybil Connolly Fashion designs include a dress she made out of striped linen tea towels. Managing to turn a cleaning item into a work of art, coveted by the rich and famous is a clear testimony to the fact that she truly was an inspiring mind, capable of turning the wonderful visions of her imagination into realities, even with items that seemed to have lost all wonder and mystery about them.