Mollie Parnis belongs to the first generation of American fashion designers to be known to the public by name rather than by affiliation to a department store.
Her clothing became standard in the wardrobes of conservative businesswomen and socialites of the mid-20th century. Parnis herself was one of these women; she understood what women wanted to wear and what they required to appear appropriately dressed, yet feminine.
(Thanks to the Modern Fashion Encyclopedia and The Vintage Fashion Guild for their background research and information.)
This classic gray dress is labeled Morty Sussman for Mollie Parnis Boutique, which launched in 1970. It is a beautifully sculpted dress of classic wool crepe.
This has long slender sleeves with a whisper of gathering at the sleeve cap. The back is very simply cut with shoulder darts and princess seams for a smooth, sleek fit; this also has a center back zipper (21" Coats & Clark, metal pull, plastic teeth).
The front has a deep slash neckline (7.5" deep) with a double row of top-stitching and under-bust darts. The seam under the bust is shaped from the side seams to the center (11" below the neckline's center front, curving down to 6.75" below the underarm seam.) The skirt is slightly gathered below the seam.
From each of the side seams is a triangular shaped panel cut on the bias that comes together and ties under the bust giving an empire appearance. This tie is tacked at center to secure it in place.
The bodice and sleeves are fully lined.
At the base of the zipper this has the Union label, the 100% pure wool label (dry clean only) and reinforced paper label with "order number" of 4058 (or maybe 4056) with a handwritten "F" and "8" and a stamped 899 and 6. We believe that the 899 is the style number, and that the 6 refers to the size.
Measurements laid flat are:
Under the arms: 17.5" for a 34-35" bust
Across the back beneath the shoulder darts: 15"
From neck point to shoulder point is 4 and 3/8".
From shoulder point to sleeve hem is 21"
Around the hem of the sleeve is 9".
From center back of the neck to the hem is 37.5"
At the back, at the narrowest section (natural waist) it is 14" across for an approximate 28" waist.
Across the back at the bottom of the darts is ~ 17" for a tiny 34" hip.
It is 45" around the hem.
This fabulously classic dress in a most flattering shade of rich grey is freshly dry cleaned and ready to wear. The only flaw of note would be v e r y light pilling on the inside of the skirt of this dress; the exterior of the garment is excellent with no stains, no spots, no pulls, holes or problems of any sort.
Again, thanks to the Vintage Fashion Guild for background about Mollie Parnis:
Mollie was born Sara Rosen Parnis in Brooklyn, New York on March 18th, 1902. She briefly studied law at Hunter College in New York. She met and married Leon Livingston (originally Levinson) in 1930.
As for her career: After high school, worked in sales for a blouse manufacturer, then as stylist for David Westheim Company, New York, circa 1928-30.
Parnis-Livingston ready-to-wear established in New York, 1933; launched own label in the 1940s. Her boutique line was added in 1970; Mollie Parnis Studio Collection ready-to-wear line added in 1979. Her firm closed in 1984; however, her first loungewear collection, Mollie Parnis at Home, was designed for Chevette, New York in 1985.
The Molly Parnis Livingston Foundation was established in 1984. Ms. Parnis died on the 18th of July 1992, in New York.
Parnis was a success in the fashion industry from the start. During her first job as a salesperson for a blouse manufacturer, she showed a keen interest in design details, as well as a good sense of what might sell.
She was promoted to a design position with the firm in a short period of time. Her ability to determine what fashion would be successful served her throughout her career, spanning over 50 years in the industry.
When she and her husband, Leon Livingston, started their own business just prior to World War II, the prospects for any new clothing wholesaler seemed dim. They knew, however, that one of the keys to success was specialization, so Parnis-Livingston limited its line to women's dresses and suits, which were immediately successful.
The look of Mollie Parnis clothes was conservative and classic. In the 1950s she was known for her shirtwaist dresses and suits in luxurious-looking fabrics that spanned seasons and made the transition from office to dinner. She also employed whimsical, all-American combinations such as menswear wool with silk fringe in some of her evening dresses.
Though not always a design innovator, she was a consistent provider of well-made, highly wearable clothes. She interpreted the contemporary silhouette with her conservative good taste and her sensibility to the busy American woman's desires and needs.
United States First Ladies, from Mamie Eisenhower to Rosalyn Carter, were Parnis customers.
The Vintage Merchant is a proud member of the VFG, The Vintage Fashion Guild.