More Than Chintz: The Opposing Styles of Sister Parish

It’s not unusual to see an artist dressed in a uniform. Johnny Cash became the ‘Man in Black’ because he wore the color so much, and Steve Jobs put his genius on display by forgoing conservative suits for a comfortable turtleneck and jeans combo.

This act of hiding oneself to reveal their craft is also seen in the wardrobe of American interior designer Sister Parish. Sister’s work was built around a bright aesthetic, but when examining her own sense of style, there are extremes. Her professional attire was consistently colored in somber hues and designed in structured silhouettes. This countered the way she transformed her rooms, which were festooned with rich fabrics and quirky embellishments for customers with social status’ as bright as the patterns she used.

How Dorothy Became Sister

Sister was born Dorothy Kinnicutt to a wealthy American family. She earned the moniker Sister as a familial nickname, which followed her into adulthood. Her childhood occurred during the early twentieth century, which was a time where the occupation of an interior designer was not realized. Instead, it was a set of duties based on societal rules to be taken on by a wife or female relative. Sister came into her own appreciation of the craft through both genuine interest and designing her first marital home with her husband, Albert. In 1933, Sister began her interior design business in a small one-room office in Far Hills, New Jersey. The fact that she was a married woman owning a business was considered scandalous and resulted in her husband losing his inheritance.

Sister established herself as an interior designer by designing for her friends, which led to one project after another. By 1962, the business was so successful that Sister needed a partner. She found a then-young interior designer named William Hadley who specialized in combining classic and contemporary styles. Together the duo designed rooms for some of the top names in American society, which included the Astors, Paleys, and even the Kennedys.

Sister is credited for creating and popularizing the American Country look, an interior design aesthetic that was described by a 1999 profile in Architectural Digest as, “…a certain kind of cozy old-money look, part opulent, part hand-me-down.” This upscale ‘lived-in’ feel was created by using antiques and assorted furniture that was complemented with wicker accents, graphic rugs, and handmade textiles. She also liked to include artistic details like scenic panoramas, which elevated the rooms to suit the needs and societal lives of her clients.

Dressing as Sister Parish
There is not much text on Sister’s wardrobe, but she was frequently photographed during the height of her career. By analyzing her wardrobe in these photographs and comparing them with her work, a greater understanding of her own aesthetic is revealed.

Sister’s first identity in American society was of a wife. However, her passion for interior design created a new path that let her use her own name and voice. She reveled in this new identity with an outgoing personality and a matching design aesthetic. This passion did not translate into her own professional wardrobe, which was based on darkly-colored outfits with small touches of white neck collars, pussy bows, or jewelry. Constructed, conservative silhouettes channeled her aristocratic upbringing through variations of pencil skirts with jackets or knee-length dresses in crew or V-necklines. Sister’s mainstays were a blonde coif, a flash of red lipstick, and pearls in either a necklace, earring, or brooch form. This personal appearance was that of a diligent professional whose clothing choices were direct and chic, which left the interior design as the focus.

To learn more about Sister Parish, visit SisterParishDesign.com or read one of the many books about her life and work.

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Christian Lacroix’s Aristocratic Muse

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Marie Seznec was known as the couture client liaison for Christian Lacroix, but she had another role that was just as important, one of a grey-haired muse. “I found my first grey hair when I was just 14,” she said. “ All my family had grey hair; my parents, grandparents, my brothers and sisters. Because I was the youngest of a family of five I wasn’t shocked at all.”

Born and raised in Brittany, Seznec’s first introduction to the industry was through her family’s boutique. “I loved fashion and I liked staring into the store’s windows,” Seznec said. “Although my parents worked in the fashion business, they were also artists. My father drew all the time, and my mother embroidered.”

After childhood, Seznec went to study fashion at Studio Bercot. While as a student, she was spotted by an editor of Elle France. This editor had her photographed for the magazine’s 1982 December issue, which attracted the modeling agency, Marilyn.

Speaking about her qualifications as a model, Seznec said, “At 5’-6” I wasn’t very tall compared to other models in the ‘80s who were at least 5’-8”. Today you have to be 6 feet!”

Her grey hair paired with her youthful, beautiful face attracted high-end designers, and she found work with Thierry Mugler, Hermes, and Yohji Yamamoto. Her unique look even caught the attention of Christian Lacroix, then at the couture house Jean Patou.

The first time she appeared on a Patou runway, Lacroix ordered hairdresser Alexandre de Paris to make Seznec into a modern-day Madame de Pompadour, which was later recreated for the cover of W.

A friendship between Lacroix and Seznec traveled from his time at Patou to his own personal couture line. She worked as both a fit and fashion model for the house and was an essential part of the line’s image. She later became an ambassador for Lacroix, and even inspired him to give his in-store mannequins grey hair.

Seznec then took a break from the colorful walls of Lacroix’s salon to get married. As expected, her gown was a custom-made satin dress suit made by Lacroix. For the reception, she changed into a powder pink chiffon and taffeta ballgown that was also made by the designer. After spending some time as a married woman, she found herself back to fashion in 1994 and became the Directrice of the designer’s couture salon.

Seznec’s new position held a lot of power because it worked directly with high paying customers. To attract and maintain clients, she used her charming personality and immense knowledge about the brand, which was cultivated through years of experience. She remained in this position until 2009, and at the age of 57, Seznec sadly passed away from cancer.

Seznec’s grey hair while outfitted in Lacroix’s clothing will always be a moment of fashion history where muse and maker combined. However, what may be more important is the relationship between the designer and his trusted friend. Just like her beauty, Seznec and Lacroix’s friendship was one of a kind.