Remember Molly Fink? The Melbourne Catholic girl who captured the heart of a rajah?
Such were the mores of the time that their relationship pleased almost no-one but the couple themselves, and fashion ran like a thread through the scandal surrounding the interracial relationship. The rajah, Martanda Tondaiman, wore tailored suits in Australia but it was for exactly this intercultural costuming that he was mocked in the country’s insular media; after a short romance the pair married in a registry office in 1915 wearing “sober Western dress”.
Molly followed the rajah to his southern Indian principality of Pudukottai, adopting local attire but attracting almost as much enmity as her husband had in Australia. The love match unsettled those in the highest ranks of imperial power, and Martanda was forced to hand power to a regent and eventually to abdicate. The pair settled on the Côte d’Azur, living in Jazz Age splendour at a time when the region first attracted a truly international crowd, including the likes of Gerald and Sara Murphy.
Exposure to, and enrolment in the global idle rich unleashed Molly’s hitherto well-concealed sense of style. Among her social set were couturier Jean Patou, socialite Elsa Maxwell and photographer Cecil Beaton, and her closet bulged with the best of between-the-wars design, including Chanel, Vionnet, Lanvin and Schiaparelli. Molly’s free spending secured her a place in the orgy of big-ticket superfluities depicted in the book Made for Maharajahs.
The rajah’s death in 1928 brought the good times to a sad and premature end, but Molly held on to her impressive wardrobe, finally donating it to the Fashion Museum in Bath before her death in 1967.