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Lucile Duff-Gordon

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Lady Duff-Gordon

Lucile, Lady Duff-Gordon during the First class dinner scene.

Lucy Christiana, Lady Duff-Gordon (née Sutherland) (13 June 1863 – 20 April 1935) was a leading fashion designer in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, best known as "Lucile", her professional name. The first English designer to achieve international renown, Lucile was a widely acknowledged innovator in couture styles as well as in fashion industry public relations. Apart from originating the "mannequin parade", a precursor to the modern fashion show, and training the first professional models, she launched liberating slit skirts and low necklines, popularized less restrictive corsets, and promoted alluring, pared-down lingerie. She opened branches of her London house, Lucile Ltd, in Paris, New York City, and Chicago, dressing a trend-setting clientèle of royalty, nobility, and stage and film personalities. Lucy Duff Gordon is also remembered as a survivor of the sinking of Titanic in 1912, and as the losing party in the precedent-setting 1917 contract law case of Wood v. Lucy, Lady Duff-Gordon, in which Judge Benjamin N. Cardozo wrote the opinion for New York's highest court, the New York Court of Appeals.

In James Cameron's 1997 film Titanic, Lady Duff-Gordon was portrayed by Rosalind Ayres.

RMS TitanicEdit

In 1912, Lucile travelled to America on business in connection with the New York branch of her salon. She and her husband, Sir Cosmo Duff Gordon, booked first class passage on the ocean liner RMS Titanic under the names Mr. and Mrs. Morgan, a possible explanation being that they hoped to avoid publicity on landing in New York. Lucile's secretary, Laura Mabel Francatelli, nicknamed "Franks," accompanied the couple. On 14 April, at 11:40 pm the Titanic struck an iceberg and began to sink. During the evacuation the Duff Gordons and Franks escaped in Lifeboat 1. Although the boat was built to hold forty people, it was lowered with just twelve – most of them crewmen.

Some time after the ship sank, while afloat in boat 1, Lucile reportedly commented to her secretary, "There is your beautiful nightdress gone." A fireman, annoyed by her comment, replied that while the couple could replace their property, he and the other crew members had lost everything in the sinking. Cosmo then offered each of the men £5 to assist them until they received new assignments. While on the RMS Carpathia, the Cunard liner that rescued Titanic's survivors, Cosmo presented the men from Lifeboat 1 with checks drawn on his bank in London, Coutts. Later this action spawned gossip that the Duff Gordons bribed the crew in their boat not to return to save swimmers out of fear it would be swamped.

These rumours were fuelled by the tabloid press in the United States and, eventually, in the United Kingdom. On 17 May, Cosmo Duff Gordon testified in London at the hearings of the British Board of Trade inquiry into the disaster and on 20 May Lucile took the stand. Their testimony attracted the largest crowds during the inquiry.

Cosmo Duff Gordon faced tough criticism during cross-examination while his wife "had it slightly easier". Dressed in black, with a large, veiled hat, she told the court she remembered little about what happened in the lifeboat on the night of the sinking, and could not recall specific conversations. Attorneys did not seem to have pressed her very hard. Lucile noted that for the rest of her husband's life he was broken-hearted over the negative coverage by the "yellow press" during his cross-examination at the inquiry. The final report by the inquiry determined that the Duff Gordons did not deter the crew from any attempt at rescue.&nbsp The Titanic episode is one of the most tangible aspects of Lucile's life, thanks partly to motion pictures. The films, however, portrayed her without great attention to accuracy: in cameo by Harriette Johns in A Night to Remember (1958), produced by William MacQuitty, and again by Rosalind Ayres in James Cameron's 1997 blockbuster Titanic. In the latter film the role of Lucile's husband Cosmo was portrayed by the actress' own husband, Martin Jarvis. In the 2012 British miniseries Titanic, Lucile was played by Sylvestra Le Touzel.

A faded grey silk kimono with typical Fortuny style black cord edging, for some time thought to have been worn by Lucile as she escaped the Titanic, is now understood to have belonged to her daughter Esme, Countess of Halsbury. The distinctive print on that garment, designed by Mariano Fortuny, dates the item to post World War One. Fortuny suffered from failing sales following business problems in 1915, when his business assets were seized. The company reopened with a new name later that year, and following further changes, opened a new factory in 1919 with new, more commercial designs using new patented techniques. Letters written by Lucile do reveal the features of two 'warm, padded' bathrobes she wore. One pink, one purple, and both chosen for warmth. One was a partially made garment she describes grabbing in a rush from the Paris branch of her salon. She also described wearing a pair of pink Yantorny slippers, a blue head wrap and a squirrel coat and her 'motor hat'.[27] An apron said to have been worn by Lucile's secretary, Laura Francatelli, can be seen at the Maritime Museum in Liverpool, and her life-jacket was sold, along with correspondence about her experiences in the disaster, at Christie's, London, in 2007.

Lucile had another close call three years after surviving the Titanic when she booked passage aboard the RMS Lusitania on its last voyage. It was reported in the press that she cancelled her trip due to illness. The Lusitania was destroyed by a German torpedo on 7 May 1915.

Later life and deathEdit

Lucile's connection with her design empire began to disintegrate following a restructuring of Lucile, Ltd in 1918–19, and by September 1922 she had ceased designing for the company, which gradually diminished in success after her departure. Meanwhile, its founder (who continued to be known as Lucile) worked from private premises designing personally for individual clients. She was briefly associated with the firm of Reville, Ltd., maintained a ready-to-wear shop of her own and lent her name to a wholesale operation in America. Lucile also continued as a fashion columnist and critic after her design career ended, and she penned her best-selling autobiography Discretions and Indiscretions in 1932. She died of breast cancer, complicated by pneumonia, in a Putney, London nursing home in 1935 at the age of 71. The date of her death, 20 April, was the fourth anniversary of her husband's death.

LegacyEdit

Lucile's former assistant, Howard Greer, published memories of his years working with her in the book Designing Male (1950). A dual biography of Lucile and her sister Elinor Glyn, called The 'It' Girls, by Meredith Etherington-Smith, was published in 1986, the title stemming from Elinor's popularization of the euphemism "it" to denote sexuality or "sex appeal."

A number of international museum exhibitions have featured Lucile garments in recent years, such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art's "Cobism and Fashion" (1999), the Museum of the City of New York's "Fashion on Stage" (1999) and the Victoria and Albert Museum's "Black in Fashion" (2000) As of 2006, the V&A included a Lucile suit on permanent exhibit. The first exhibition devoted exclusively to Lucile's work was the New York Fashion Institute of Technology's "Designing the It Girl: Lucile and Her Style" (2005) It included pieces from the private 'Lucile Ltd' archive of the British textile designer, Lewis Orchard, who is known for his expertise on the subject.

The Victoria & Albert Museum in London published Lucile Ltd by Amy de la Haye and Valerie D. Mendes in June 2009. In 2011-12 Lucy Duff Gordon's great-great granddaughter, Camilla Blois, revived the Lucile brand, concentrating on alluring and elegant lingerie, as her ancestor had when she started in business in the 1890's. The year marked a resurgence of interest in the couturiere's legacy. In addition to the Sundance Channel documentary, "Love, Lust & Lingerie," which featured a detailed segment on Lucile's contributions to fashion history, the British-produced miniseries Titanic, written by Downtown Abbey's Julian Fellowes, included a cameo portrayal of the designer. Two critically acclaimed accounts of the disaster, Shadow of the Titanic by Andrew Wilson, and Gilded Lives, Fatal Voyage by Hugh Brewster have extensive chapters on Lucile. Five other books published in 2011-12 explored Lucile's career. Among them are an illustrated biography, Lucile: Her Life by Design by Randy Bigham, and a novel based on her life, The Dressmaker, by Kate Alcott. Other titles include Staging Fashion, exploring the Lucile wardrobes of actresses Lily Elsie and Billie Burke, and Performance, Fashion and the Modern Interior, which includes a chapter on Lucile's salons. Finally the couturiere's 1932 autobiography, Discretions and Indiscretions, was republished under the title A Woman of Temperament.

TitlesEdit

  • 1863–1884: Miss Lucy Christiana Sutherland
  • 1884–1900: Mrs. James Stuart Wallace
  • 1900–1935: Lucy, Lady Duff-Gordon

External linksEdit

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