Fashion in the garden

The Times We Lived In – Published: October 31st, 1986. Photograph: Peter Thursfield

Dress designer Sybil Connolly in her garden that runs between Merrion Square and Fitzwilliam Lane.  Photograph: Peter Thursfield / The Irish Times

Dress designer Sybil Connolly in her garden that runs between Merrion Square and Fitzwilliam Lane. Photograph: Peter Thursfield / The Irish Times

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If you’ve been thinking, idly, that it might be time to get out and do a bit of light gardening, here’s an image to inspire you to dust off your wellies.

It shows the fashion designer Sybil Connolly in her Dublin garden in 1986, when the book In An Irish Garden, which Connolly co-edited with Helen Dillon, had just been published.

“She is 65, elegant and unlined, glamorous as you would expect from a woman who has been regularly on the ‘best dressed woman’ lists,” begins the accompanying feature article.

Connolly’s garden is intimidatingly immaculate: look at that brick path, edged with the same sort of inch-perfect precision which characterised Connolly’s famous pleated linen dresses.

She may be wearing a beautifully draped scarf and assembling a genteel selection of blooms in her Goldilocks basket, but you get the sense that if a recalcitrant snail had the effrontery to munch its way along her border, the designer would slice it in half with those secateurs without so much as a blink of regret.

The article is genuinely positive and enthusiastic, pointing out that besides her sought-after clothes, Ms Connolly takes inspiration from the garden for her range of fabrics, china and enamelled boxes, stocked by the likes of Tiffany & Co. At the far end of the lawn, meanwhile, is a mews house “for when friends like the Rockefellers come to stay”.

In a vain attempt to bring the whole thing back down to ground level, the reporter adds that for 14 years Ms Connolly has been designing and redesigning her garden: “never satisfied, always perfectionist. She tries to use gardening gloves but always finds there is a difficult weed or something that needs unhampered hands.”

Well, quite. Ms Connolly claims to have “earth under her nails from March to September” but there isn’t much sign of it in this photograph. Can you imagine her clambering out of the hedge, hands filthy and hair full of spiders?

No. Me neither.

These and other Irish Times images can be purchased from: irishtimes.com/photosales. A book, The Times We Lived In, with more than 100 photographs and commentary by Arminta Wallace, published by Irish Times Books, is available from irishtimes.com and from bookshops, €19.99

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