1960s Sybil Connolly Couture 'Non Chalance' Red Ruffled Pleated Linen Dress
Sybil Connolly was based in Dublin and her first major fashion show as a designer in her own right was in 1953 and quickly became a darling of the American market. Jacqueline Kennedy wore Connolly for her official White House portrait and Connolly was a particular favorite of Carmen Snow, the editor of Harper's Bazaar. In 1957 she launched her couture label. She created Haute Couture pieces made from Irish textiles and in particular she became famous for her distinctive use of pleated handkerchief linen. This excerpt from the FDIM Museum explains Sybil Connolly's techniques:
"Sybil Connolly's trademark gowns required a tremendous amount of fabric. To construct one pleated evening dress required between 72 and 90 yards of Irish handkerchief linen. After undergoing a secret pleating process, this initial yardage became 7 to 10 yards of slightly irregular, narrow linen pleats. Like the early 20th century designer Mario Fortuny, Sybil Connolly was very protective of her pleating process, swearing that it was a secret she would "carry to the grave." In her designs, Connolly usually oriented the pleats horizontally, covering the seams with self-fabric cording. The cords also lengthen the overall line of the garment, providing a counterbalance to the horizontal pleats. As Connolly tended towards solid colors, the stiff cording also provides a necessary visual contrast to the soft linen pleats."
Connolly was named the 'Dior of Dublin' by the press and rightly so. This dress is not 100% perfect but still a stunning example of the pleating techniques as described above. This best matched the sketch of the dress that Connolly named the 'Non-Chalance'. I found a sketch of it within the permanent collection of the Hunt Museum in Ireland and there is also a similar gown held in the collection of the Irish Linen Centre & Lisburn Museum. Sybil worked directly with the cloth when she did her design work and rarely did any preliminary sketches so it is a pleasure to have found one to reference. I found a quote that referred to the Irish linen she used to be 'of a quality so fine it was almost chiffon-like in weight' and that’s description is very accurate. This dress has a very formal feel to it that is heightened by that strong red color that the linen has been dyed to. The elaborately layered cuffs are a made from the same fabric but here the pleats are more a traditional tiny pleat and they are set vertically, rather then the horizontal pleating of the dress. They are dramatic and very full with their two layers stacked on top of each other. They add a touch of romance and whimsy to the dress and give it a lovely movement when you move your arms. This same treatment circles the hem as well and adds a touch of a flounce to the other wise structured skirt. The dress is otherwise kept to simple lines so that the pleating technique takes center stage. The bodice is fitted, with a slightly scooped neckline. The waist cinches in for shape and then the skirt billows out to a beautiful strong line that allows the many yard of fabric used to take full center stage. Soft gathers at each side of the hip and around the back create more volume. It is wonderful and rare example of her work. The gown presents as excellent condition at first glance but does have some condition notes below to review.
The dress is fully lined in a matching red hand set silk and closes with a back painted metal zipper. The hand work done can clearly be seen throughout the interior. I see some shattering to the silk around each arm but other wise the inner silk appears to be strong and stable. The small amount of shattering does not affect the exterior at all. There are areas of darkening/discoloration to the fabric present. I see an area on the front skirt under the waist. A smudge on the piping edge of one sleeve and a darkening to an area on the front bust. One small smudge on the back of the skirt about half way down. Inside, there is a tiny bit of fading to the seam under the arm and the inside neck. There is a tiny repair to the base of the arm seam on each side. The dress is strong and stable otherwise. The discoloration ranges from a subtle darkening to a deep darkening of the fabric as photoed. You could easily get away with wearing it as is if you don't mind a piece that is not perfect. Please review the photos shown after the label photo. It is cut slightly narrow through the shoulders.
Shoulders: approx 14" but no true seam
Sleeves: approx 18"
Bust: 17-18" flat across from side seam to side seam
Waist: 12.5" flat across from side seam to side seam
Bodice: 16" from top of shoulder to waist
Skirt: 44" from waist to front hem and 46" to the back hem
Modern Sizing Equivalent: XS-SML
Reference Photos: (1-2) Sybil Connolly Design Sketches from The Hunt Museum. / (3) An original Sybil Connolly creation. Copyright Irish Linen Centre & Lisburn Museum. / (4) Oil on canvas, 47 x 31 inches, executed between 1968-1995, from a Private Collection, courtesy Davis & Langdale Company, Inc., New York. / (5) Cherie, Owner of Shrimpton Couture, by Erin Leydon.
This garment has been professionally cleaned, pressed and is odor free. Thoroughly checked over before shipping, it will be ready to wear upon arrival.