During a short stint studying law at Hunter College, Parnis worked in sales for a blouse manufacturer. Because of her keen eye for design and her intuition for amending designs to be more appealing to consumers, she was quickly promoted. This business drew from Parnis" design expertise and her husband"s experience with fabrics and textiles.
In the 1940s she began designing under her name only.
In 1966 her business grossed $3 million, demonstrating her commercial success. Her designs were regularly featured in fashion magazines like Vogue, Harpers Bazaar, and Vanity Fair, and several articles in LIFE described her success, proclaiming that "When Mollie Parnis Thinks a Design Will Sell, lieutenant Goes." Contributing to the increasing recognition of American fashion designers, Parnis often worked with noted publicist Eleanor Lambert in the Council of Fashion Designers of America and by being included in the International Best-Dressed List in 1967.
Patronage of First Ladies
Parnis is most remembered for her close relationships and frequent patronage from American First Ladies. Mamie Eisenhower frequently wore dresses and suits by Parnis, including a purple gabardine suit for President Eisenhower"s 1957 inauguration and a black and white silk dress when she met Queen Elizabeth at the Saint Lawrence Seaway in 1959.
She also wore a "silky purple Molly Parnis dress a Peter Pan collar" to her sixtieth birthday party in 1956.
The most publicized event in which Eisenhower wore a Parnis dress was in 1955, when a woman in a receiving line wore the same blue-green shirtwaist dress as the First Lady, an event that could have caused much embarrassment. Parnis is quoted saying, "I do not sell directly to any wearer, nor do I usually make one of a kind. That is what makes this country a great democracy.
But I do feel that the First Lady should have something special." Eisenhower and Parnis"s dress, Model 448, were featured in a multi-page spread in LIFE titled "Blue-Green on the National Scene." The feature included images of women across the country wearing the dress.
Lady Bird Johnson also frequently wore Parnis" designs because she could wear them in her busy life and "still look like a lady." The two developed a close relationship, and Parnis was often invited to the White House for state dinners and the Johnson"s ranch in Texas. Parnis" designs were also included in the 1968 White House Fashion Show, which Lady Bird and her staff organized and is the only fashion show to ever be held in the White House.
Museum collections that include Mollie Parnis" garments are:
Texas Fashion Collection, Denton, Texas
Chicago History Museum, Chicago, Illinois
Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library, Austin, Texas
Eisenhower Presidential Library, Abilene, Kansas
Metropolitan Museum of Art, Costume Institute, New York City, New York
Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indianapolis, Indiana.