Molyneux was of Irish and French Huguenot ancestry. He served as an infantry captain with the Duke of Wellington Regiment in the British army during World War I, during which time he lost an eye in battle. In 1923, though said to be openly homosexual, he married his first wife (Jessie) Muriel Dunsmuir (1890–1951), one of the eight daughters of the Hon. James Dunsmuir, Premier of British Columbia. They divorced in 1924.
Born in London to Justin Molyneux and Lizzy Kenny, Edward Molyneux attended Beaumont College, a Roman Catholic preparatory school. Owing to the death of his father, he dropped out at the age of 16 to pursue his ambitions as a painter and illustrator. After a period working for the British fashion designer Lucile, Molyneux opened his fashion house in Paris at 14 rue Royale in 1919 (later, 5 rue Royale), expanding to Monte Carlo in 1925, Cannes in 1927, and London in 1932, becoming known for his "never too rich or too thin" idle slim "refined at the edge of outrageous" look, frowning on superfluous decoration, and going on to dress European royalty like Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent, British high society, actresses Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, Gertrude Lawrence, Margaret Leighton, and Vivien Leigh, and interior decorator Syrie Maugham. His followers included Christian Dior and Pierre Balmain. He was friends with Noël Coward. "The designer to whom a fashionable woman would turn if she wanted to be absolutely right without being utterly predictable" (Caroline Milbank).
Evening dress, 1939
Designers offered a variety of styles at the end of the 1930s, including wide-skirted dresses, as alternatives to the clinging bias-cut gowns. In August 1939 Vogue described the scope of the Paris collection: 'Molyneux's hoop-flared day skirts walk beside Lanvin's modern peg-topped hobble skirts; Balenciaga's wide Velázquez paniers dance past Paquin's tightly wrapped mummy skirts'. This creation by Edward Molyneux has its double-tiered, full skirt held out by four bone hoops.
The dress was worn by Stella, Lady Ednam, and forms part of the Cecil Beaton Collection. This Collection was brought together by the society photographer Sir Cecil Beaton (1904-1980). With great energy and determination Beaton contacted the well-dressed elite of Europe and North America to help create this lasting monument to the art of dress. The Collection was exhibited in 1971, accompanied by a catalogue that detailed its enormous range.
For Vogue, '60
A black afternoon dress with a good label was both a chic choice and a sensible one. Edward Molyneux (1891-1974) could be relied on to provide streamlined distinction. This dress has a schoolmistress-like authority and propriety; its covered-up look features a demure high neck, long sleeves and a safe, calf-length skirt. However, Molyneux transformed it into a little black dress with attitude by cutting the matt crepe to skim sensuously over the body's curves and by introducing pleats at salient points. A wide sash arranged in folds below the waist emphasised the slenderness of the wearer. The dress buttons down the back. (V&A Museum)
Evening Ensemble, 1936
This is an evening ensemble made of black taffeta. It is composed of a full-length, backless dress and of a short jacket. The dress has two straps at the back of the waist, going over the shoulders. The skirt of the dress flares out in heavy folds. The jacket is worn over the dress. It shows the shape of a tailcoat, opening high under the bust. The leg-of-mutton sleeves end at the elbow.
This evening ensemble was designed by Edward Molyneux (1891-1974). Molyneux was born in London, England. He opened a dressmaking salon in Paris in 1919. He was based in London from the mid-1930s until the end of World War II, when he returned to Paris.
During the 1930s, evening wear underwent tremendous transformations. By 1930, designers of women's fashion had abandoned the linear, gamine look of the 1920s in favour of softer, more sculptural clothes which accentuated feminine contours. Bodices were slightly bloused; skirts were gently flared. Hemlines dropped and for the first time varied according to the time of day. Evening gowns were full-length.
Couturiers also abandoned the costly, labour-intensive decorative techniques of the 1920s, such as embroideries. They focussed on colour combinations, the use of lace, or on the inherent characteristics of rich materials such as taffeta, as in this evening ensemble.
In the 1930s, the suit for women had become so popular that its concept of a long skirt and short high-waisted jacket was borrowed for evening wear. Short boleros and, as in this evening ensemble, jackets were used to cover backless evening gowns.
Another strong influence on evening wear came from historical and escapist sources. Designers derived much of their inspiration from neo-classicism and Victorian revivalism. This vogue gave rise to leg-of-mutton sleeves on tailored jackets, and on evening jackets. From 1935 onwards, the skirt grew wider, probably to balance with the new voluminous sleeves.
Jacket and dress, 1930-1939
This suit sums up 1930s elegance with its sleek lines, nipped-in waist and pleated skirt. Tailor-made outfits were practical yet smart and well suited to town or country wear. Designers created the most fashionable models. Here Molyneux has attached the silk blouse to the skirt to reduce bulk and create a stylish dress when the jacket is removed.
Day dress, autumn 1942
This day dress is from the Utility Collection by the Incorporated Society of London Fashion Designers for the Board of Trade. It may have been designed by Edward Molyneux. The simplification and economy of material match the conditions laid down by the Board in relation to the manufacture of civilian clothing during the Second World War of 1939-1945. Then, both hand-crafted and mass-produced tailoring was as important as it is today. But, despite the best efforts of the fashion designers to be inventive without wasting precious fabric, there was a very limited choice. The Utility Scheme was introduced by the Board in 1941 to ensure that low- and medium-quality consumer goods were produced to the highest possible standards at 'reasonable' prices. These standards complied with restrictions and rationing of raw materials. The word 'Utility' was applied to garments made from Utility cloth, which was defined in terms of minimum weight and fibre content per yard. Utility clothes were usually identified by a distinctive double crescent CC41 (Civilian Clothing) label.
When offering this day dress to the Museum in August 1942, Sir Thomas Barlow explained that it conformed 'in simplification and economy of material to the conditions laid down by the Board of Trade in relation to the manufacture of civilian clothing'.
Wedding dress and shoes, 1948
Wedding dress in cream silk moiré with a full length, full skirt, closely fitted bodice and long tight sleeves. The neckline cut wide and low, with a knife-pleated bertha collar. Row of closely spaced covered buttons at wrists and back zipper. Two stiffened synthetic silk waist-petticoats, the top one in silk with a deep moiré flounce, the bottom a crinoline slip interlined with stiffening to support the skirt. Wedding veil of fine silk net attached to a cream satin band with elastic band. Matching cream silk moiré sandals, made by Rayne, with wrap-over effect peep-toe and button, low-ish heel and ankle straps.
Evening dress, ca. 1963
Evening dress of pale pink silk gazar trimmed with matching ostrich feathers.
The dress is a full length, strapless, slightly flaring sheath with a triangular yoke and shoulder drape edged with matching ostrich feathers and held at each shoulder with a bow of self material.
It is lined with pale pink silk. There is a white, grosgrain, boned brassiere body lining, to which are attached hanging loops, which, like the dress, fasten with a zip.
Skirt suit, autumn 1942
Tailored jacket and skirt in light brown checked wool
Evening dress, 1925
Often remembered as Captain Molyneux, Edward Molyneux began his career with the English couturiere Lucile, Lady Duff Gordon, as a fashion sketcher and later assistant, traveling with her from London to New York and Chicago. Returning after WWI with blindness in one eye, Molyneux opened his own couture house in 1919 in Paris at 14 rue Royale. He opened several other branches, in both Monte Carlo and Cannes, and finally London. Molyneux had an artistic flair and obsession with the bourgeois. His clientele included the social elite as well as stars of the stage. Working in luxurious fabrics, he created exquisite pieces for both day and night, his colors of choice being navy, black and beige. His simplistic masterpieces were perfect for the woman who desired to look "absolutely" right.
This evening ensemble from the mid-twenties is a perfect example of the refined designs of Molyneux. The neutral color choice subdues the eye yet on close examination, the extent of beading is astonishing. A provocative touch is the low cut overblouse, made appropriate by the sheer underdress beneath. This is a classic example of the boyish cut so favored by all women during the twenties. (Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC)
Using one of his colors of choice, this navy blue ensemble is a perfect example of Molyneux's unsurpassed workmanship. The crisp elegant lines of the suit are made slightly effeminate with the trompe l'oeil ruffles worked in an apron, and the small red bow at the neck. This would have been a proper English style coveted by the chic Parisian woman.
"Midsummer Madness", 1937
This evening ensemble is an excellent example of the full-skirted silhouette of the late nineteen-thirties. Beneath the luxurious black velvet is a hoop petticoat. This two-piece ensemble of jacket and dress speak to the period of luxury and refinement which it represents. The name is also of interest, following the practice Lucile had of naming each of her designs; "Midsummer Madness" evokes thoughts of spontaneous adventure.
Evening dress, 1925
A flapper's dream, this mid-twenties design is the epitome of luxurious frivolity. The beading and handwork is immaculate, the color subtle but the number of embellishments extravagant. The long strands of beads, clustered around the bottom of the skirt, give movement to the dress that would no doubt cause a stir as the wearer danced the night away.
Evening dress, 1926–27
The flapper dresses of the 1920s coexisted in couture and ready-to-wear, the latter often gaudy, the former continuing the linear interests of high-style dress of the 1910s. Molyneux was a designer of consummate good taste, walking a fine line between the refinements of couture style and a modernist aesthetic and the ambition to be socially and culturally advanced in the age of Anita Loos and Gatsby. In this evening dress, sequins in vertical stripes are overlaid with loose lengths of georgette picoted along the edges for a delicate shimmer on vertical filaments.
Evening dress, 1949
Evening dress, fall/winter 1939–40
Ball gown, ca. 1950
Evening coat, ca. 1942
This evening coat showcases Molyneux's elegant simplicity in the use of broadtail. He has added interest by juxtaposing the sheen and matte areas with his use of fur and wool.
Wedding Dress for Princess Marina de Grecia y Dinamarca when she married the Duke of Kent, November 25, 1934
Evening dress, 1931
Evening dress, 1939
This work in the popular mermaid line style of the 1930s, is the triumph of Molyneux's golden age. The bias-cut fabric encases the body closely, and the gathers at the seams create a beautiful drape.
In the 1930s, styles exposing feminine curves returned to fashion. Hair, which was short in the 1920s, became longer again, and previously knee-length skirts became ankle-length. Made of soft fabric, long sheath dresses of the decade correspond to the streamlined design that was popular at that time.
Gown with glass beads, 1949
Evening Dress, 1936
Ball Gown, 1928
Wedding dress, 1946
Evening Dress, 1946
Evening Dress, 1931
Lady Abdy in a Molyneux outfit
Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn, 1938
Evening Dress, 1933
Wool Suit, 1938
For Vogue, 1939
Evening Dress, 1949
Evening Dress, 1924
During World War II, he moved his firm to London for the duration of the conflict and returned to Paris in 1946. In 1965, he came out of retirement, Time magazine described him as "the Parisian equivalent of Manhattan's Mainbocher, a classicist devoted to the soft look and tailored line."
Though he retired in 1950 to take up painting, leaving his fashion house in the hands of designer Jacques Griffe, Molyneux returned to fashion in 1964, when he opened Studio Molyneux, a high quality ready-to-wear line that received mixed reviews. He retired again in 1969, but Studio Molyneux continued under the direction of his cousin John Tullis until it closed in 1977.
The Molyneux trademark is owned by French company Parfums Berdoues, and though the fashion component of the firm remains dormant, the firm still produces scents, such as Captain (1975), Quartz (1978), Le Chic, Vivre, I Love You and Quartz Pure Red (2008).
Molyneux painted throughout his life and exhibitions of his paintings were held at the Galerie Weill in Paris (between 1950–1956) and at the Hammer Galleries in New York (1967). Here, 'Carnations in Vase' was purchased by the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, and 'Roses in Glass' by Greta Garbo.
Molyneux's Uncle, Maj. Edward Mary Joseph Molyneux, during his years in the Himalayan Valley of Kashmir, painted many scenes of the capital city of Srinagar and other areas which inspired him. The paintings were published in a book title Kashmir accompanied by descriptions of the Valley by Francis Younghusband.
Captain Molyneux also amassed an extensive Impressionist art collection, including paintings by Picasso, Monet, Manet and 17 by Renoir. They were sold as a 'lot' to Ailsa Mellon Bruce, who bestowed the entire collection upon the National Gallery of Art.
100 Years of Fashion Illustration by Cally Blackman
Paperback: 384 pages
Publisher: Laurence King Publishers (April 19, 2007)
Amazon: 100 Years of Fashion Illustration
A visual feast of 400 dazzling images, this is a comprehensive survey of the genre over the last century. The book also offers an overview of the development of fashion, as seen through the eyes of the greatest illustrators of the day. Early in the century fashion illustration reflected new, liberating currents in art and culture, such as the exoticism of the Ballets Russes, while the postwar period saw inspiration from the great Parisian couturiers. After the dominance of the celebrity fashion photographer in the '60s, a new generation of illustrators emerged, embracing the medium of the computer, while many returned to more traditional techniques.
More Fashion Designers at my website: http://www.elisarolle.com/, My Ramblings/Art
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