Lucy, Lady Duff Gordon, famous as "Lucile," the fashion expert whose articles in the Daily Sketch were for years a notable and most popular feature has died in Putney. Her husband Sir Cosmo Duff Gordon, Bt., died in April four years ago. Both were survivors of the Titanic disaster, another April event. "Lucile" brought chic into the fashions of her day.
SHE CHANGED EVE'S DRESS
Lucy, Lady Duff Gordon
Was Pioneer of Freedom
in Women's Dress
DEATH AGED 71
One of the most remarkable women of the century, Lucy Duff Gordon, died during the week-end at a nursing home in Putney. She was 71.
As was shown in her reminiscences, published exclusively in the Daily Sketch three years ago under the heading "Lucile Lifts the Veil," no woman can have had a life of more varied experience or crammed with greater incident.
As if her life were not already sufficiently eventful she and her husband were passengers aboard Titanic she sank in the Atlantic in 1912.
For 30 years she directed the great firm of Lucile, court dressmakers, with branches in London, Paris, New York, and Chicago.
Her fashion articles were a popular feature of the Daily Sketch for a considerable period. She wrote especially for girls of drastically limited income and took the greatest care in catering to these whom she called "My Dorothys." "It was my Dorothys, " she proudly claimed," and no one else who made the Russian boot fashionable." She was "at home" on one occasion for her "Dorothys" and for two hours women called on her to look at the colour schemes of her flat in Chelsea.
As head of the dressmaking establishment "Lucile," Lady Duff Gordon came into contact with most of the crowned heads of Europe. Her personality made her the confidante of many women in society. It was for this reason that her reminiscences were among the most revealing ever published.
She was born in London, daughter of Douglas Sutherland, a Toronto engineer. "I have been a success in many things but a failure in others," she wrote."I have made a great fortune and lost it all. I have loved many people and been loved by many more, been happy for moments in my life and known my full share of sorrow in others."
Sorrow, indeed, was to come to her early for she lost her father when she was quite young. Then when still only in her teens she contacted her disastrous first marriage."At the age of 17," she wrote," I had left a trail of broken hearts behind me." In a feeling of pique at the loss of a lover who had become involved in an intrigue with a married woman she married James Stuart Wallace. "The 6 years of my marriage to Jim Wallace were the worst I ever knew," she wrote.
HER FAMOUS FRIENDS
In succeeding years she was destined to befriend some of the most famous men and women in the world - Lillie Langtry, Oscar Wilde, Sarah Bernhardt, Isadora Duncan and many others. It was in planning a dress for her daughter Esme, now the Countess of Halsbury, that she suddenly felt the inspiration to take up dressmaking as a career.
That was the beginning of the then revolutionary idea of making dresses to suit each woman's personality.
She changed the Victorian dowdiness of women's clothes into modern freedom and smartness. She introduced the "slit skirt," the fashion show, and the word "chic" as applied to women's fashion.
"Lucile" also designed the "Merry Widow" hat in which Lily Elsie took London by storm.
One of her first commissions was to design the dresses for her sister Elinor, the later novelist, on the occasion of her marriage to Clayton Glyn.
"I am too deeply grieved for words. Lucy's whole life was one expression of the finest qualities of English courage. Even to the end she pretended she was not really ill. I have never before seen such courage." - Mrs. Elinor Glyn.
Lady Duff Gordon designed gowns for the Queen she was Duchess of York, the first one being of blue satin with tucked yoke and sleeves. "So evidently," wrote Lady Duff Gordon," even as long ago as the reign of Queen Victoria, Queen Mary was fond of blue."
Of the Queen of Spain, Lady Duff Gordon said."Of all my Royal clients I liked her the best for she is so delightfully human and simple and so truly feminine in the way she chooses her clothes."
DRAMA OF THE TITANIC
Cowardice Charge That
Broke Husband's Heart
When she decided to go to America with her husband she had a premonition of the disaster to the Titanic. Recounting her experiences in the Daily Sketch, she wrote: "I had been in bed for about an hour when I was awakened by a funny rumbling noise. Then the boat stopped and immediately there was the frightful noise of escaping steam and I heard people running along the deck outside my cabin. But they were laughing and gay. 'We must have hit an iceberg,' I heard one of them say."
"Boat after boat was being lowered in a pandemonium of rushing figures. Over the confusion the voices of the ship's officers roared:' Women and children first!'And once I heard the sharp bark of a revolver."
BRIBERY ALLEGATION DISPROVED
Lady Duff Gordon refused to be parted from her husband. Eventually they were allowed to enter the Captain's emergency boat and were rowed swiftly away. Later Lady Duff Gordon and her husband attended the Titanic Court of Inquiry. It was alleged that he had bribed the sailors in their boat with an offer of 5 pounds a piece to row away from the sinking ship instead of helping others who were drowning. But it was held that there was no evidence to support the aspersion.
"I suppose," said Lady Duff Gordon," that the most terrible thing that can happen to a man is for him to be accused of cowardice. Cosmo never lived down the shame of the charges that were brought against him. He became a changed man. His heart was broken."
Lucy Christiana, Lady Duff Gordon
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Added to Encyclopedia Titanica Thursday 28th August 2003, last updated Wednesday 26th November 2014.