collection SC.8 - Mollie Parnis collection, 1935-1984

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Mollie Parnis collection, 1935-1984


  • 1935-1984 (Creation)

Level of description


Extent and medium

Documents on paper and artwork

Context area

Name of creator

(1899 March 18-1992)

Biographical history

Brooklyn-born ready-to-wear and boutique designer for women’s clothes, Mollie Parnis was born in 1899 as Sara Rosen Parnis to a poor immigrant family. She started working at the age of 8 years old and briefly studied law at Hunter College before beginning her career in fashion. In 1928, Parnis began as a saleswoman in a showroom of a blouse manufacturer, but soon moved on to designing. In 1933, Parnis opened her own business with her husband Leon Livingston. In the 1940s, she launched her own label.

Parnis’s clothes were feminine, accentuating waistlines with full skirts. She became known for her understated, conservative, well-tailored dresses and suits in luxurious looking fabrics. She designed for several first ladies, including Mamie Eisenhower and Betty Ford, and always kept her prices in the moderate range. Parnis stayed in business throughout the 1980s, closing her salon in 1984. She published a book, ‘Fashion: The Inside Story" and started up an at-home business concentrating on loungewear. in 1985.

Name of creator

(circa 1940 - 1984)

Administrative history

Mollie Parnis, Inc. was a high-priced specialty dress firm that was active from the 1940s to 1984, founded by designer Mollie Parnis after the death of her husband, textile salesman Leon Livingston. The company started out small, but expanded into three divisions: Mollie Parnis, Inc., Mollie Parnis Studio, and Mollie Parnis At Home.

Archival history

  • Accession records for this collection are not available.
  • Materials were rehoused by Kurtis Fox in 2013.
  • In 2020/2021, this collection was added onto the IMLS Save America's Treasures grant rehousing project performed by Danielle Paterson wherein all sketches were removed from their original mounts and placed in mylar sleeves.
  • In continuation of the IMLS Save America's Treasures grant, further work including the rehousing and arrangement along with the creation of a new finding aid was performed by Samantha Levin and Meg Pierson with help from Hillary Higginbotham and Kaley Baron in 2021 and 2022 as part of a project to digitize a portion of the sketches.

Immediate source of acquisition or transfer


Content and structure area

Scope and content

Appraisal, destruction and scheduling

  • Collection is in very good condition considering its age and provides a view into fashion trends across a very wide time span from the 1930s into the 1980s through the lens of a prominent American female designer.
  • Some sketches indicate periodical issues where designs were published in some way, including the April 1956 cover of American Vogue.
  • Many sketches have textile swatches attached to them using very old and dried out tape. Much of this tape no longer holds the swatches well, and so many of them have become dislodged and likely misplaced. The tape has also caused discoloration in many instances, sometimes obscuring the swatch completely. With good intentions, non-archival tape was used to reattach some of the swatches at an undocumented point in the more recent past. Most swatches are in very good shape.
  • All sketches on paper are acidic, however they've kept their color and strength for decades. Some artwork created with marker has bled a bit onto archival folders. Sketches on vellum have colored pencil medium on both sides, so they were interleaved with acid-free paper.
  • It’s highly likely that many of the sketches have been misfiled into incorrect seasonal collections.


System of arrangement

Conditions of access and use area

Conditions governing access

Access is open to researchers by appointment at the Fashion Institute of Technology Library, Department of Special Collections and College Archives. If you have any questions, or wish to schedule an appointment contact us at or call (212) 217-4385.

Conditions governing reproduction

The Department of Special Collections and College Archives does not own copyright for all material held in its physical custody. It is the researcher's obligation to abide by and satisfy copyright law ( when copying or using materials (including digital materials) found in or made available from the department. When possible, the department will inform a researcher about the copyright status of material, the researcher's obligations with regard to such material, and, wherever possible, the owner or owners of the copyrights. Any and all reproduction of originals is at the archivist's discretion.

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      Language and script notes

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      Finding aids

      Allied materials area

      Existence and location of originals

      The Library of the Fashion Institute of Technology, Department of Special Collections and College Archives, 27th St. at 7th Ave., NY, NY , USA, 10001

      Existence and location of copies

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      Notes area


      The creation of this finding aid, and the digitization of a large portion of this collection was made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

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      Level of detail

      Dates of creation revision deletion


      • English


      • Latin


      Archivist's note

      • Arrangement, description, and archival processing by Kurtis Fox in 2013, then by Samantha Levin, Meg Pierson, Hillary Higginbotham, Kaley Baron, and Danielle Paterson in 2021-2022, FIT, NY, NY, USA.

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