Edward Molyneux (French, born Britain, 18911974)
Mauve acetate satin–backed crepe; Waist 23 in. (58.4 cm), Skirt front 47 in. (119.4 cm)
Gift of A. M. Tenney Associates, Inc. and Tennessee Eastman Corporation, 1949 (C.I.50.21.12)
By the twentieth century, the pleating and the girdled midriff of this halter gown were well-established references to classicism. But in this dress, Edward Molyneux introduced a subtle new detail to frozen wet-drapery by replicating the fluted neckline seen on many Greek and Roman statues. As in Hellenistic sculptures, Molyneux fanned open the pleats of his gown's deep décolleté neckline. But like most pleated gowns of the post-World War II era, these folds are carefully controlled and secured by loose stitches to a structured, though in this instance flexible, underbodice. The modernist movement's affinity with classicism is evidenced in fashion from the beginning of the twentieth century onward. Here, the designer manipulated an experimental fabric into forms evocative of the antique. However specifically situated classical dress was to its own time, references to Hellenic styles have been freed from fashion's chronology by a sense of the timelessness of the ideals of beauty they evoke. In choosing to cite the past while also experimenting with a fabric of the future, Molyneux aligned himself with designers for theater and film, who costume imagined utopias past and future with the draped styles of the ancients.