Edward Henry Molyneux was born 5 September 1891 in London to Irish parents. Molyneux attended Beaumont College, a Roman Catholic preparatory school, until age 16 when the death of his father ended his formal education. Molyneux had ambitions to be a painter, and turned his artistic talents to fashion drawings, contributing by age seventeen to the English magazine Smart Set. In 1911 he was hired by the fashion house of Lucille [Lady Duff Gordon], then known as the greatest dressmaker in London. Molyneux worked in her salons in New York and Chicago. At the start of the first world war, Molyneux signed on to the Duke of Wellington Regiment. He achieved some fame in his military career, later receiving the British Military Cross, and was subsequently always referred to as Captain Molyneux. His wounds from the war ultimately lead to the loss of vision in his left eye. Molyneux returned to work for Lucille after the war, but in 1919 opened his own fashion house on the Rue Royale in Paris, which was an almost immediate success.
Molyneux expanded his business first to Monte Carlo, in 1925; to Cannes, in 1927, and finally to London in 1933. His clientele at the Grosvenor street salon included actresses as well as members of the British Royal family. One of his most famous designs was the wedding dress of Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent. Examples of Molyneux designs can now be found in the collections of the Victorian and Albert Museum in London, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, and the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
With partner Elsa Maxwell, Molyneux opened in 1921 a Paris nightclub, Les Acacias; the partners later opened another club, Le Jardin de ma soeur. In 1923 Molyneux married Muriel Dunsmuir, daughter of the Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia; the marriage lasted one year.
Molyneux was in France until just prior to the fall of Paris, when he left for England from Bordeaux, via a coal barge. His London house remained opened throughout the war and was so successful in earning dollars that in 1941 Molyneux was sent to survey the US market by the Overseas Board of Trade.
The Paris salon had been kept open during the occupation, and Molyneux returned to it as soon as possible after the war. However he retired shortly thereafter on the advice of his doctors, fearing for his remaining eyesight. Molyneux made a brief comeback in 1964, showing a collection in a salon on one floor of his old Paris address on the Rue Royale. After a few seasons he again retired, passing his responsibilities for the biannual collections to John Tullis, a cousin who had worked in the Paris salon before the war.
Molyneux was an avid collector of art, first acquiring eighteenth century French painting and later the Impressionists. His collection, featured in a 1952 exhibition held in New York and Washington, was purchased in 1955 by Ailsa Mellon Bruce [1901-1969], whose collection was left to the National Gallery of Art at her death. Molyneux also painted throughout his life. Exhibitions of his paintings were held at the Galerie Weill in Paris (between 1950-1956) and at the Hammer Galleries in New York (1967). Molyneux was a chevalier of the Legion of Honor.
After his retirement from the fashion industry, Molyneux divided his time between homes in Jamaica, New York and the French Riviera. He died in Monte Carlo in March of 1974 and is buried in the French town of Biot, where he had a home.
French Paintings from the Molyneux Collection. Exh. Cat. National Gallery of Art, 1952.
Talmey, Allene. "Captain Molyneux." Vogue (15 August 1952): 132-133+.
Picken, Mary Brooks and Dora Loues Miller. Dressmakers of France. New York, 1956:52-54
"Capt. Edward H. Molyneux, 79; Dominated Fashions for Years." The New York Times (1974) March 24: 34
"Capt Edward Molyneux: Leading Paris fashion designer." The Times of London (1974) March 25:14