c.1965 Sybil Connolly Couture Bow Detailed Blue Pleated Irish 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."
This dress is a stunning example of that technique. It is most likely from about 1965 based on the bow details used on the side of the skirt, though she did make variations of this dress from the mid 1950s to the mid 1960s so it could be an earlier version. I believe this is a version of the dress that I found a sketch of from the permanent collection of the Hunt Museum in Ireland. You can see the similarities on all but the length. 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 softened by that lovely soft blue color that the linen has been dyed to. The bows are a stiffened organza and the color of those slightly offset the blue of the dress. They add a touch of romance and whimsy as they run down the sides of the skirt, securing in place the long, inverted folds down each side. The dress is kept simple so that the pleating technique takes center stage. The bodice is sleeveless, with a high neckline at the front and a slight V at the back. 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. It is stunning and a rare example of fashion history. Excellent condition with one small note below to review.
The dress is fully lined in a blue hand set silk and closes with a back painted metal zipper, Inner waist stay closes with hook & eye. The hand work done can clearly be seen through the interior. Some shattering to the silk on the inner bodice - photoed and shown after the label photo. This does not affect the exterior in any way
Bust: 17.5-18.5" flat across from side seam to side seam
Inner waist stay: 13" flat across from side seam to side seam, if left unhooked you could get a bit more room
Hips: to 21" flat across from side seam to side seam
Bodice: 15.5" from top of bodice to waist
Skirt: 42" from waist to hem with abut 3" turned up under the hem
Modern Sizing Equivalent: SML-MED
Reference Photos: (1) Sybil Connolly Skirt in Harper's Magazine, August 1965. / (2) Credits Unknown. / (3) Sybil Connolly sketch from The Hunt Museum. / (4) Oil on canvas, 47 x 31 inches, executed between 1968-1995, from a Private Collection, courtesy Davis & Langdale Company, Inc., New York. / (5-7) 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.
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