How a surviving Titanic passenger changed European fashion: Forgotten fashion designer Lucy Duff Gordon
How a surviving Titanic passenger changed European fashion: Forgotten fashion designer Lucy Duff Gordon

Lucy Duff Gordon has survived the collapse of all hopes, family life and Titanic. But it was she who was ahead of the fashion industry by almost half a century, having come up with everything that has now become customary - fashion shows, the release of one brand of clothing, perfumes and accessories, poetic names for new collections and even a prototype of a modern bra …

Sketches of dresses from Lucille

Lucy Christina Sutherland was born in London in 1863. She grew up in Canada, spent her youth in the Channel Islands. She married at twenty-one and divorced at twenty-seven. It was then that they first started talking about her - albeit in a somewhat scandalous vein. In those years, divorce proceedings were rare and perceived as something unacceptable. However, Lucy did not agree to silently endure alcohol addiction and her husband's rough treatment. The process lasted an unbearably long and caused real suffering for the participants, but three years after it began, Lucy was finally free. Free, poor and with a child in her arms.

Photos of the models of the House of Lucille

So she began to sew to order - to survive. Her first client was her younger sister, Eleanor, who was destined to become a famous novelist and creator of the concept of "it-girl". Elinor advised her friends to turn to Lucy for new outfits, they told their friends about her … Gradually, things went uphill. Lucy rented a small space and opened her own shop - Maison Lucile, the fashion house "Lucille".

Lucille preferred lightweight, well-draped fabrics

At the dawn of cinema, the profession of a costume designer did not exist, and actresses appeared in the frame in their own dresses - whatever they considered necessary. It is not known which of the stars became Lucille's first client, but soon Mary Pickford and Gabi Desslis were already sported in her luxurious outfits, and the countesses with the baronesses almost lined up at the door of her shop.

British actresses in Lucille outfits

What attracted women who could afford to order outfits from Parisian couturiers so much in the creations of a modest British milliner? Lucille wrote in her memoirs: “I never came up with a dress, not considering the nature of the woman. I believe that it must necessarily please its owner, become a part of her personality!"

Innovative models from Lady Duff Gordon

Both in life and in work, she was known as a rebel. Lucille opened up unprecedented freedom to women on both sides of the Atlantic. She strove to make dresses more open, offered skirts with slits, unobtrusively showing legs. The House of Lucille was the first to launch lingerie that matches this innovative garment, beautiful and comfortable. She called for the abandonment of rigid bones in corsets and designed the prototype of the modern bra. And she also decided on unheard-of courage - she offered the British women silk underwear with lace, beautiful and pleasant to the body. Before Lucille entered the fashion scene, women were content with flannel and cambric. Lucille richly decorated peignoirs and nightgowns, and there was no end to the clients - everyone wanted to look at home no worse than at a social reception.

A fragment of a negligee and trimming of a dress by Lucille Details of dress decoration

Lucille has worked extensively with theaters. After the incredible success of "The Merry Widow", the fashion house was overwhelmed with orders - everyone wanted exactly the same hat as the operetta's heroine, although the company had not previously produced hats for the general public. For Lily Elsie, the UK's leading theater actress, Lucille has created both stage and casual wardrobes and, at her request, provided makeup and styling recommendations.

Lily Elsie

According to some sources, chronologically it was Lucy Duff Gordon who was the first fashion designer to demonstrate outfits on living models. Her shows were more like small performances with live music, flowers and mysteriously flickering candles. Guests were sent invitations, distributed programs, each dress was assigned a highly poetic name (for example, "The Sound of a Sigh" or "Bleeding Soul"). And after the show - a buffet table, champagne, conversations … It is not surprising that all the ladies of London were eager to get into Lucille's "fashionable living room".

Street and tea dress by Lucille

The work became more and more, the status of the clients was higher and higher, and Lucille understood that she needed a faithful companion, an assistant. She turned to businessman Cosmo Duff Gordon with an offer of cooperation. He answered her with a marriage proposal. So Lucille became Lady Duff Gordon, and her fashion house skyrocketed to fame. By 1918, Lucile Ltd was generating two million dollars in revenue annually. About two thousand people worked on the creation of outfits, lingerie and accessories. Lucy became the first famous business woman of this level. The men who “played” in the same field simply hated her. But Lucy argued that resistance, ridicule, contempt and condemnation from conservatives only inspired her to move forward. Lucile Ltd stores opened throughout Europe and America, actresses appeared on the Broadway stage in Lucille dresses … In addition, Lady Duff Gordon became famous as a journalist. She has run fashion columns for Harper's Bazaar and Good Housekeeping magazines.

British actress Mary Young in a Lucille dress

In 1912, Lucy and her husband traveled to New York to open branches of Lucile Ltd. They sailed on the ill-fated Titanic … And ended up on the infamous "boat of millionaires" - instead of forty people on board there were only twelve, because one of the survivors threatened to shoot back from unwanted "neighbors". The story of a miraculous salvation cost the spouses Duff Gordon both money and nerves - it was followed by numerous trials, charges and damage to reputation. However, it was the American branches that allowed the company to survive both these shocks and the First World War, after which dozens of fashion houses went bankrupt. Sadly, in the 20s, and the fashion house Lucille could no longer stay afloat. The last branch in Paris was closed in the mid-30s - almost at the same time as Lady Duff Gordon herself was gone. Even in its dying days, House Lucille remained victorious, outliving many of its competitors. And the love of fashion in the family of the revolutionary milliner did not subside. Great-granddaughter Lucille created her own lingerie brand - and named after her.

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