Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Captain in Paris

If one wanted to be impeccably dressed in Paris in the 1930’s there was no other couturier to patronise other than the Captain. Captain Edward Molyneux an Irishman of Huguenot ancestry was the last word in chic in Paris during the 1930’s. More conservative than Schiaparelli and in a different class entirely from Chanel, he was the one whom fashionable women turned to, when she wanted to be absolutely “right”. Everyone from royalty to the stage appreciated Molyneux’s sureness of line and gifted insight into chic.

Born in 1891, he won a contest sponsored by Lady Duff Gordon (The dressmaker Lucille and also a passenger on the Titanic) for a sketch of an evening gown. Wounded during World War 1, losing an eye, he opened a salon in Paris in 1918.

*With Madame Lanvin

With Lady Diana Cooper

Right from the beginning his simplicity of style and perfect taste was evident. Molyneux was known for conservative clothes but they were never staid or matronly. His typical customer was tall, thin and intelligent, and usually in her late twenties or thirties. He soon became known for his "never too rich or too thin" ideal and "refined at the edge of outrageous" look, frowning on superfluous decoration. Going on to dress European royalty like Princess Marina of Greece and Denmark, British high society, actresses Greta Garbo, Gertrude Lawrence, Margaret Leighton, and Vivien Leigh, and interior decorator Syrie Maugham.

In The 30's the pure Molyneux look fully emerged. His streamlined backless white satin evening dresses with silver-fox furs thrown over the shoulder became the symbol of 30's elegance. He was best known for his wonderful handling of navy blue and black. His designs had ‘a thoroughly British upper-class restraint.’

Like most other couturiers he diversified into perfumes launching “Le Numero Cinq” (No 5) as his premier perfume. There are two mutually exclusive stories about Numéro Cinq. Apparently Molyneux had befriended Chanel, and together they hatched the idea of each bringing out a perfume called No 5 on the same day in 1921, to see whose perfume would be more popular. The outcome of that contest is no longer in doubt, but this version of the story says that Molyneux’ Cinq was far ahead of Chanel’s for several years. The other (recorded in Nigel Groom’s excellent Perfume Handbook) is that Molyneux brought out several perfumes at once in 1925 named after different addresses of the firm: 3, 14 and Numéro Cinq. Molyneux’s Numero Cinq was also referred to as “Le Parfum Connu” (The Known Perfume) to avoid troubles with Chanel. Either way, fashion designers clearly had more of a sense of humour then than now. Funny thing is both Chanel’s No 5 and Molyneux’s No 5 were in eerily similar bottles, so there could be some credence in the story related above.

He dressed the most elegant women right up to the outbreak of World War II and escaped from Paris to London in 1940.

During World War II, he operated out of London for the duration of the conflict and returned to Paris in 1946. However his health was not the same particularly his eyesight began to fail, so in 1950 he closed his Paris and London establishments and retired to Jamaica. In 1965 he came out of retirement and collaborated with his nephew to open “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.He died in 1974 at the age of 83.

The Captain as he was known as also collected an extensive Impressionist art collection, including paintings by Picasso, Monet, Manet and 17 Renoirs. They were sold as a 'lot' to Ailsa Mellon Bruce, who bestowed the entire collection upon the National Gallery of Art.

Time magazine described him as "the Parisian equivalent of Manhattan’s Mainbocher, a classicist devoted to the soft look and tailored line."
Blog Widget by LinkWithin