Born on the 24th January 1921, Sybil Connolly was an innovator, an influencer, an entrepreneur in the world of fashion and design.
Sybil Connolly | Photographer unknown
She was a woman ahead of her time and, while not forgotten, she is maybe not recognised for all that she brought to the world from the 1950’s to the 1980’s. When her fashions became outmoded by the shortening of skirts she changed track becoming a designer of glass and ceramics, wall papers and textiles.
She gave new life to traditional Irish fabrics using the red flannel of Connemara petticoats to form a billowing peasant skirt. She is credited with the reimagination of Donegal Tweed
Detail from Red Skirt | Sybil Connolly | 1950s | Hunt Museum | CC0
She persuaded the nuns of Carrickmacross to dye their Lace pink for her Pink Ice creation.
Detail from Pink Ice |Sybil Connolly | 1956| Hunt Museum | CC0
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. Issy Miyake 50 years later uses the technique in his Pleats Please Collection.
A 1950’s influencer she also dressed Elisabeth Taylor and Julie Andrews and exported to the US from Ireland, eventually supplying Tiffany’s with her ceramics and glass. By the late 1950’s she was employing over 100 women, many working from their homes across Ireland, making tweeds and lace.
In this centenary year of her birth the Hunt Museum will release a series of Instagram stories looking at her techniques, colours, patterns, entrepreneurism and influencer skills. We will add to the sum of knowledge about her via our wikicommons contributions, hold kids clubs to make her wallpapers and textiles, and have some open conservation sessions on some of design pieces we hold in our Sybil Connolly Collection, the largest in the world, bequeathed to us by her nephew, John Connolly.
Alisson Rocha, Marketing Manager at the Hunt Museum says: “ we want to create a following for Sybil, her designs, techniques and innovations on our Instagram, inspiring others with herstory, a woman innovator in 1950’s Ireland, where, in many ways fashion was just her medium.”
Each month a new story will be released focussing on her innovative techniques, her entrepreneurial drive, her influencing skills and of course her very distinctive dresses still worn by the likes of Gillian Anderson in the 2012 BAFTA’s and Anna Clarke wore ‘First Love’ her grandmother’s dress for her wedding in Dublin in 2013. Her grandfather Jack Clarke ran Richard Allens’ where Sybil Connolly worked in the 1950s. We start on the anniversary of her birthday with Sybil the Innovator in Fashion of the 1950’s
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Notes for Editors:
The Hunt Museum www.huntmuseum.com
The Hunt Museum holds one of Ireland’s greatest private collections of Art and Antiquities from the Neolithic period to the 20th century. Donated by John and Gertrude Hunt to the people of Ireland, this diverse collection is housed in The Custom House, a 18th Century Palladian style building in Limerick. Alongside two more recent collections: Sybil Connolly and Irish Contemporary Ceramics. The Hunt Museum is a centre of learning and civic life that preserves and uses its world class collections to support a greater understanding of our past and to deliver new collaborations and innovation. Public engagement is key to our approach with a full education programme and wide community participation in all our work.
Photos: see below
Red wool skirt | Sybil Connolly | 1957 | Hunt Museum | CC0
Purple Lavender Evening Gown Handkerchief Linen Pleated | Sybil Connolly | 1960s | Hunt Museum | CC0
Irish Moss Handkerchief Linen Pleated Dress | Sybil Connolly |1950s | Hunt Museum | CC0 | Photo: Justin Gawke
Pink Ice | Sybil Connolly | c.1956 | Hunt Museum | CC0
Beautiful Places Wall Paper | Sybil Connolly | 1970s and 1980s | Hunt Museum | CC0
Tipperary Crystal (1980s) and bone china (1986) based on flower paintings by Mrs. Delany (1700 – 1788)| Sybil Connolly | 1980s| Copyright: David Davidson
Celtic Weave Ceramics | Sybil Connolly | 1980s | Hunt Museum | CC0