I believe Ireland has always been fashionable but we have over the mists of time seemed to have forgotten this fact. Author, historian and aesthete Robert O’Bryne has been keen to showcase Ireland’s unique fashion history for decades in his many articles on the subject and ever since his book and TV Series After a Fashion arrived in the scene in the early 2000s. And now in 2018 he continues to inform with his showstopping exhibition which calls out Ireland’s Fashion Radicals of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s at The Little Museum of Dublin. The message of the exhibition is clear we have had fashion visionaries amongst us producing innovative collections for both the Irish and international market right through the 20th century and it’s something worth celebrating.
I got a first glimpse of the exhibition last Tuesday evening at the opening and there was an exciting mix of designers and models from the 1960s -1970s in attendance (including Ib Jorgensen and Michelina Stacpoole to name but a few) as well as some of the kind donors and original wearers of the sumptuous gowns on display.
Image of Sybil Connolly dress in pleated linen on loan from Hilary Weston.
The layout and use of the space in the Little Museum worked really well as did the use of graphics and contextual materials surrounding each designer and the selection of fashion on display. Two things stood out for me on the night. One being what an amazing opportunity it is to see these beautiful clothes out of glass cases and fresh as the day they were worn, it is very unusual to see these pieces as a collection as some are on loan from private owners. And secondly I was struck by how remarkable all these women (and the amazing Ib Jorgensen) were to be so determined in their craft, managing their studios and often a large family at the same time. Fashion is a difficult business in the 21st Century but these visionaries made their mark in tremendously difficult times.
Standout dresses on show are Sybil Connolly’s exquisite mint green off the shoulder dress donated by Hilary Weston and Mary O’Donnell’s vibrant crochet and brightly embroidered separates. Both of which would still inspire awe on the catwalks of the world’s fashion capitals today.
Irene Gilbert and model circa 1950.
A dress worn to Buckingham Palace by Anne, Countess of Rosse. Fans of the Netflix series The Crown will see Anne depicted by Anna Chancellor in Series 2 as the mother of Antony Armstrong-Jones 1st Earl of Snowdon where she is quite wrongly dressed in frumpy style which is not in keeping with the real Anne’s extraordinary wardrobe.
I’ll leave you with some words Ib Jorgensen said in his opening speech:
“There has been centuries of dressmaking and craft in Ireland. When I arrived on the scene in the 1950s the craft was very much there and all we had to do was encourage it.”
The exhibition Ireland’s Fashion Radicals runs until 25th March 2018 and it is well, well worth a visit. Booking in advance is also advisable at the weekend and your ticket includes admission to the whole museum. So why not make a fashion history afternoon of it? It’s unmissable!
FURTHER READING (if you fancy)
Cool graphics and quotes from the designers line the walls of the exhibition. The quote above is from Michelina Stacpoole.
Sybil Connolly and her incredible line-up of 1950s dresses in her publicity shot from the time.
A detail taken of a Sybil Connolly skirt in dove grey linen with embroidery and lace inspired by the Georgian plasterwork of the squares and townhouses of Dublin.
Neillí Mulcahy had her own business on South Frederick Street from 1960s-1970s and she was commissioned to create the new uniforms for Aer Lingus staff.
One of the leading shots of the exhibition – an Ib Jorgensen caped coat from the 1960s. I’d love to wear this now!
Michelina Stacpoole knit tunic and trousers.
Detail from Michelina Stacpoole’s knit tunic and trousers.
Mary O’Donnell crochet dress.
Details from Mary O’Donnell’s 1960s crochet and applique looks.
Photos of the exhibition are by Ruth Griffin on Canon EOS 600D.