I planned to highlight Irish designers from an exciting period in fashion who may have been forgotten over time. Now it is even more important to keep the memories alive as Irish couturier Neilli Mulcahy has passed away at the age of 87.
I only visited her exhibition in Collins Barracks last year which displayed her range of work from her colourful eveningwear made from native linens and tweeds to her uniforms for CIE, Great Southern Hotels and the Aer Lingus uniforms from 1963. She was known for her innovative use of Irish tweeds and collaborated with hand weavers to produce fabrics in lightweight weaves and vibrant colours.
She held her couture salon in Dublin from 1951 to 1970, collaborating with friend and milliner Elizabeth Fanagan. Neilli (along with Ib Jorgensen, Irene Gilbert and Clodagh Kennedy) founded the Irish Haute Couture Group to promote Irish fashion in the US.
Ib Jorgensen is now a fine artist but will be the subject of a retrospective of his creations coming this year in Dublin’s National Museum. I can’t find anymore details but will keep you posted when I find out when.
Another member of the Irish Haute Couture Group I found was Clodagh Phipps. The only evidence I found online were photos from the Irish Photo Archive showing the eighteen year old designer at work on her first fashion show.
One exception is Sybil Connolly, who dressed Merle Oberon, Elizabeth Taylor, Fred Astaire, and Jacqueline Kennedy while she was First Lady. Even so, details are limited.
Her main influences were a woman’s curves, nature and the traditional fabrics and everyday clothing of the Irish; Donegal tweeds, Eliot’s poplin, Carrickmacross lace, bainin (a thin, handwoven wool) and Irish linen. This can be seen below where Gillian Anderson wore one of her creations to the Baftas.
Like Neilli Mulcahy, she championed the traditional crafts and artistry of Ireland from Donegal embroidery and handwoven lace to iridescent Donegal tweeds and her invention of a unique linen fabric, which is considered one of Connolly’s greatest achievements.
This way of dressing declined as the beginnings of disposable fashion started to appear. Ireland, Dublin especially, used to be alive with clothing factories. You don’t have to look far into your family history here before discovering relatives that worked in the industry.
It is so sad to compare what we had with what is left but I haven’t given up hope. Look to the South William Street area for evidence; Dublin’s Creative Quarter, which is already home to a number of independent design stores, fashion outlets and cafes.
This is a promising start to boosting and promoting Irish design, craft and innovation. As the famous saying goes ‘charity begins at home’. It’s one thing to lament a bygone era but we have to be proactive in keeping what we have alive and thriving.
Before looking elsewhere, see what Ireland itself has to offer. For such a small country, we have a lot to offer.
Neilli Mulcahy photo from The Independent.
Ib Jorgensen photos from Swank Vintage.
Gillian Anderson wearing Sybil Connolly from The Irish Times.