June Post: Having lunch with Sybil Connolly

Hearing of the Sybil Connolly exhibition at the Hunt Museum in Limerick reminded me of an important time starting out in my fashion career. I was honoured to have had lunch with her and her friend Eleanor Lambert at 71 Merrion Square in Dublin. This had been Connolly’s home, where she would showcase her work along with having tea with her clients. She famously described it as “the house that linen built”.

 

Sybil Connolly in her home at 71 Merrion Square.

At that time, I was working with Brown Thomas and we wanted to change the fashion direction. I thought Sybil Connolly would be the perfect person to discuss what brands to bring to Ireland as she was the queen of Irish society and renowned internationally.

I rang her butler, Mr James Sheridan, to see if I could set up a meeting with her and she agreed to have me around to her house.

When I was at her house I met Eleanor Lambert (who founded the International Best Dressed List, New York fashion week and was involved with starting up the Coty Fashion Critics’ Award). We talked and it was decided that I should fly out to her place in New York with Terry Keane (who was the primary contributor of the Sunday Independent’s gossip column, The Keane Edge) to be introduced to the American fashion society.

Upon travelling to New York I could never have imagined that I would have been thrust into the middle of its social scene. Not only did I meet and talk fashion with Donna Karan but Terry and I were invited to have a lunch with Ivana Trump in the Edwardian room at New York’s Plaza Hotel.

One of the main outcomes of the trip was me bringing back DKNY to Ireland. It was one of the hottest brands in New York and at the the time, Ireland would have never been exposed to something like that before. The whole experience showed the importance of being involved in social circles in the fashion industry.

Having recounted that story, I have to acknowledge that it was Sybil Connolly who initiated that New York trip for me. For those interested, below is a short piece about her career and influence.

Dedicated to Sybil Connolly

Sybil Connolly was notoriously known in the 50s and 60s as a pioneer of Irish fashion. She famously created haute couture pieces from Irish textiles; her signature being pleated linen and was said to have been inspired by Irish women and culture.

Jacqueline Kennedy’s official portrait by Aaron A. Shikler.

Pictured above is the iconic image of Jacqueline Kennedy and her official White House portrait from 1970 in which she wears Connolly’s demure gowns. When you look at Connolly’s designs through the decades, over-aching traits of elegance, sophistication and delicacy are obvious and incorporated into her pieces through the use of tailoring, horizontal lines, symmetry and structure. Her pleats and use of fabric give all her creations an architectural feel yet still maintaining femininity. This skill not only translated to her client list (examples being Julie Andrews and Elizabeth Taylor) but also in her lasting legacy: being made part of the International Best Dressed List Hall of Fame in 1965 as well as being a recipient of the Fashion Oscars’ Supreme Award.

Irish model Anne Gunning in a Connolly white pleated blouson top photographed in 1953 (left). British model Barbara Goalen in a Connolly woolen suit photographed by Milton Greene in the village of Trim, Ireland, 1953 (middle). Tweed designed by Gerd Hay-Edie and Sybil Connolly for her 1956 collection (right).

Connolly also showed that her talent for design didn’t stop at fashion. In her late career, she worked for Tipperary Crystal and Tiffany & Co, creating luxury goods in glass, ceramics and wallpaper. Furthermore,  Her name is still internationally renowned and regarded and her footprint on the fashion industry is deep-set to this day as proven by Gillian Anderson at the 2012 BAFTAs.

 

“Mrs Delany’s Flowers” by Sybil Connolly designed for Tiffany & Co.