1965: Edward Molyneux Returns

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Captain Edward Molyneux was a British born Parisian haute couture designer best known for his work in the 1920s and 1930s. He trained under Lucile/Lady Duff Gordon before opening his first shop in 1919.  Pierre Balmain and Marc Bohan are among those who worked under him. His designs were considered conservative, but not matronly — comparable to other 1920s and 1930s designers such as Mainbocher, Vionnet and Chanel.  The rich, thin, society women of Europe;  actresses; and celebrities worldwide coveted his clothes. One would think of him as having had a full career when he retired in late 1950/ early 1951,  making it all the more surprising when Molyneux returned to the world of couture in early 1965 at the age of 70. (Click here for an image of Molyneux as pictured in Life Magazine 1965).

After more than ten years of retirement ( to paint and grow flowers on a 70 acre farm) Molyneux wanted to come back to the fashion lime-light. According to the New York Times announcement in January of 1964, he was coming back because “I just don’t have enough to do.”(1) – but I suspect he was inspired by Chanel’s recent and lucrative return to couture.

When Molyneux retired in the early 1950s, it was because an old World War I injury was threatening his eyesight (he did end up loosing sight in one eye). His comeback was initially with a collection of “50 models for spring, [that] can only be described as ready-to-wear,”(2) Though later fashion journalists referred to it as “semi-couture.” He seems to have had no desire to open up a fashion house – that task seemed too daunting for a man of his years: “Life is too short” (3)

1965: “A Spring dress with an elongated princess line.” (The London College of Fashion Collection)

Given the styles and designers popular in Paris at the time (specifically, the sleek lines of Madame Gres and the resurgence of sculptural qualities of YSL) it makes sense that his design philosophy could fit within the contemporary aesthetic. And so, on February 1, 1965, Edward Molyneux re-entered the world of high fashion with a collection of, as the New York Times put it, “tailored suits with custom details and easy, bias-cut dresses.”(4) It seemed a welcome return – Chanel sent him tulips, former muses and clients attended the show with excitement. The hope was that if enough foreign buyers bought the line, he would return to full couture. (Sketches and photos of this fashion show can be seen here: Givenchy returns to fashion February 1, 1965).

1965: “This suit is designed by Edward Molyneux for his ‘return’ collection is in Bernat Klein’s greeny brown light weight wool which has a slight slub texture.” (London College of Fashion Collection)

By April of 1965, the truth about that first show had become clear: “the general unspoken decision was that the Captain had been away too long.” (5) That said, his next collection, for fall/winter 1965, was much more warmly received –  sending “pleasant shock waves up and down the Rue Royale.” (6)

It was this second show seemed to solidify his return. Most notably, it presented an opposing version of the ubiquitous Chanel suit (in black) a welcome change by those who saw it. The bulk of the design work here, however, was executed by his nephew, with Captain Molyneux only acting in a supervisory role and may have been key to the success of this collection.

1965: “The new classical suit as seen at Molyneux is designed in a grey pure wool flannel by Dormeuil. Fashion focus: the long jacket with its curved hipline widened shoulders and slanted fastening. The narrow skirt stops almost at mid-calf”. (London College of Fashion Collection)

In later collections, his work would be compared with other re-emergent  designers of the 1930s, Chanel and Gres: a trifecta of influence.  Molyneux Studio, his label,  would continue until his death in March of 1974 at the age of 82.

1965: “The ultra-feminine fitted coat makes a striking return with this model in orange wool facecloth by Nattier, The bust and waist are tightly fitted with two long seams and the flap pockets emphasize the full skirt which flares to the hem.” (London College of Fashion Collection)

Additional Resources:

  • Photographs of his later works (1965-1972) are available via the London College of Fashion.
  • Photos of his early career are available here.
  • A video highlights Molyneux among other major designers of the day including Cardin and Heim here.
  • Balmain, Pierre, My Years and Seasons, London, 1964.

Notes:

1. Farnsworth, Clyde. “Molyneux, 70, Plans Return As Couturier,” New York Times, Jan 28, 1964, pg. 34.

2. Emerson, Gloria. “Molyneux Sets Return to Paris As a Couturier,” New York Times, Oct 9, 1964, pg. 44.

3. Emerson (ibid).

4. Peterson, Patricia. “Molyneux — and His Fashion Philosophy — Return to Paris,” New York Times, 2 Feb. 1965, pg. 26.

5. Emerson, Gloria “Fall Designs At Molyneux Draw Raves” New York Times, 29 April 1965. pg. 42.

6. Emerson (ibid).

*Edward Molyneux evening gown, 1926-27: Met,  C.I.42.33.3, Gift of Mrs. Adam Gimbel, 1942.

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1 Comment

  • Denise Dougherty April 21, 2010 08.00 am

    Lovely. Thank you.

     

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