Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Lady Duff Gordon, Titanic survivor, designer

She was saucy and blithe. But aside from her personality quirks, Lucy, Lady Duff Gordon (1863 – 1935), made gorgeous Edwardian gowns. She also survived the Titanic’s sinking.
I discovered Gordon after reading “Gilded Lives, Fatal Voyage: The Titanic's First-Class Passengers and Their World.” In 1894, after a series of unfortunate financial events, Gordon was forced to raise herself out of genteel poverty by designing and selling dresses. (Photo above is a 1917 Lucille evening gown made of silk and cotton).
And what gowns! Sold out of Maison Lucile in the Mayfair area of London, these romantic confections were known for details such as silk roses and ribbons. Her company label was called Lucile Ltd., and it eventually had branches in New York, Paris and Chicago.
Actresses, society women, titled ladies and royalty wore Lucile gowns. These included Lily Elsie, shown here in a costume designed by Gordon for a 1909 play called "The Dollar Princess." 
This gown is from the Spring 1913 collection (gown is at the V&A Museum).
The Lucile “Personality Dresses” were a smash hit and included “Happiness,” as seen in this photo (the dress is at the Philadelphia Museum of Art). From the Fall 1916 collection, this gown is made of silk taffeta, satin, tulle, and chiffon with lace, lace insets and appliqué, ribbons, and silk flowers. 
At the end of her life, Gordon was virtually penniless; her granddaughter said she had to take the bus to cocktail parties. But who cares? She was still invited to those cocktail parties and I’ll bet guests swarmed her to hear tales of her storied life.


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