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She Widens the World of Fashion : Designer Sybil Connolly Enriches the Fabric of Life

November 19, 1987|TIA GINDICK

Irish designer Sybil Connolly--she of the hand-pleated linen and garden-inspired custom clothes, the decorative textiles, home furnishings and quietly luxurious interior designs--didn't want to be dogmatic.

Nevertheless, she said, referring to Christian Lacroix and his knock-em-dead approach to fashion, "My idea of the well-dressed woman is one who doesn't shock. For me, women who are sure of themselves don't need to do that. I take it as a compliment if a woman wearing one of my designs passes by and afterwards there's a sense of pleasure.

"There's a lot of disharmony in the world today. I don't want to contribute to it."

Connolly was wearing a tailored teal blue knit shift with a double string of pearls and taupe pumps as she sipped tea in a penthouse suite at the Westwood Marquis one drizzly afternoon early this week. She was in Los Angeles to present an illustrated lecture tonight at a benefit for the Friends of Art.

From an Old, Moneyed Family

Author of a coffee-table book on gardens of Ireland, which will be followed next year by one of Irish homes and the people who live in them, Connolly is from one of Ireland's old, moneyed families and has been running through that country's best homes and gardens much of her life.

She's one of those people whose collection of anecdotes and points of reference could sound like name-dropping were they to come from anybody else: super-publicist Eleanor Lambert, whose home she always stays at in New York; an unexpected visit to her Georgian mansion in Dublin by Sister Parrish, one of America's great interior designers, who subsequently introduced her to Jackie Kennedy because the then-President's wife just happened to be staying at a beach home in southern Ireland where Connolly stayed as a little girl.

When she talks about fashion, it is in the larger sense. The fashion of how people live, what they read, what they think.

It is a luxury, perhaps, of a designer who has already won critical acclaim for being new and exciting, particularly with the invention in 1952 of her never-wrinkle, great-for-travel hand-pleated lace. She is now settled into a comfortable niche of producing a consistently fine collection.

Hates Women in Trousers

She can say she hates women in trousers (even as she acknowledges how practical trousers are) or comment that there are only so many ways to be inventive with fashion. And that the most successful designers these days--Ralph Lauren and Laura Ashley being prime examples--are rooted "in an affection for nostalgia."

Her challenges, which in turn inspire her creativity, are the other projects: the books, the research on fabric she sees in museums, which are then translated to wallpapers, or a set of china commissioned by Tiffany. Or she might admire a particularly pretty rose during a casual stroll with a friend "and these thoughts invade my mind, like wouldn't that be perfect as a fabric."

"There's a time in the life of designers when they have evolved. And they must decide whether they are designing for fashion or for beauty. And of course, it's been said before, fashion dies and beauty endures."

This may be a particularly Irish viewpoint. Though at the forefront of the decorative arts in the 6th, 7th and 8th centuries, Ireland has never been known as a style arbiter or trendsetter in the way, say, France has.

The Irish look, Connolly observed, is "more about fabric--linens, wools, tweeds and beautiful colors--rather than a line of clothes." Herself an admirer of Balenciaga, she says "the way I've evolved, the most important element in any design is proportion."

Connolly's lecture will begin at 7:30 p.m. at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Theatre in Beverly Hills. Admission to the supper afterwards is sold out. But lecture tickets at $50 each will be available at the door.

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