Lady Duff Gordon as "lady of the manor"


Martin Williams

Now that my question about Lady Duff Gordon's voice and accent has been answered so kindly, I'm going to be cheeky and pose another.

Sir Cosmo's country seat was Maryculter, in Scotland. I don't know much about this house, other than that it is now a hotel, but in 1912, I imagine it came with an estate of some kind, possibly with farms and villages, which housed Sir Cosmo's tenants? Throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the duties of the aristocracy and gentry towards those who depended upon them were clearly defined and 'the lady of the manor' would sometimes visit the ill and elderly, dispensing food and medicine and generally keeping up-to-date with their welfare. Often, there would be an involvement with the local church and school too. Now, I don't know the particular make-up of the Maryculter estate but I wonder if Lady Duff Gordon ever fulfilled this role herself? I imagine her very much in her capacity as 'Madame Lucile', wafting around her scented salons in Mayfair and New York, inspecting clients through a lorgnette and draping chiffon and lace over her mannequins. But did she ever travel north of the border to don her tweeds and brogues and fulfill her obligations as the lady of the manor, the dutiful wife of a respectable Scottish baronet?
I have read on this site that Lucile split from her husband after the Titanic disaster and didn't go back to Britain until after the war. She was seperated, and went to live and work in Paris so I don't think she would go to Scotland. It sounds very sad, as her company went bust because she didn't like the fashions of the 1920's Despite having a title she only had a little house, and a car. She must have longed to be a Lady of the manor, or a famous designer.
Then again, there is that lovely photograph of Lucy and Sir Cosmo together, taken at Maryculter very early in their marriage. I found it quite heart-warming - there seems to be a real affection there. Goodness knows what the locals thought of her, though - I can imagine grim Scottish farmworkers and gillies dismissing her a flighty piece.

Another favourite picture dates from much later, taken at some point in 1914, over tea in Lucy's garden. She looks so chic and Sir Cosmo is looking at her so quizically...I wonder what were talking about just before the shutter came down...
To Sashka: Lucile WAS a famous designer, in fact long after she had retired. She may be forgotten by most people today but her name survived her for decades after her retirement, even after her death; many of her clients were living until the 1960s and 70s. She did split with Cosmo but it had nothing to do with the Titanic. And her years actually living in America were only from 1914 to 1919.

To Martin: Cosmo loved Lucy very much, he was utterly devoted to her, and she loved him but she loved her work more than anything or anyone, and she was very frank about that in her book and in her many articles and interviews. Cosmo was extremely handsome and she was very much attracted to him physically, but emotionally she was unavailable, as we would say now. She gave so much of herself to her career that their marriage suffered as did some of her other personal relationships. As to being a chatelaine, Lucy did not enact the role much, no. Lucile despised the whole aristocratic thing --—— she was an artist first, and a “lady of the manor” a very bad second. But she made no apologies. She hated the class system, titles and the lot, but she wasn’t a fool and realized the value of her social position and obviously used to it to her commercial benefit. She spent comparatively little time at Maryculter, and did not normally do the country house round of shooting, hunting, fishing and picnicking in the wilds. So, no she was never one for the tweeds! The episode of Absolutely Fabulous in which Patsy and Edina try out the country life is probably about the speed of her own experiences! She was definitely not in her element at all. She did redecorate Maryculter but that was probably the extent of her interest in it. She never stayed long on her visits to Scotland and that disappointed Cosmo. He wanted her to be there with him and his family but it just wasn’t in her to be domestic, and she had nothing in common with any of his relatives, anyway. They were all sportsmen and women, and they bored her silly, I suppose. There’s a sad story about Cosmo issuing orders to his servants not to change any of Lucy’s decorations after she would leave for London because they were his memento of her in her absence.
I meant 'famous designer-again', sorry! I read on this site that Lucile had lots of affairs, but also it must have been very difficult to remain married after what happened to the Duff Gordon on the Titanic. I expect Cosmo's family did not like him being married to her. Are any of Luciles decorations still in the hotel?
Thank you very much indeed for that, Randy. I have to say, I couldn't really see Lucy organising the flower arrangements at the local chapel!

It's so interesting to know more about her relationship with Sir Cosmo. Not at all a 'typical' marriage arrangement, at least by the standards of the upper classes in 1912. But it's good to know that they cared about each other so honestly and so deeply.
I agree that their relationship must have been very unusual for the time. I wonder if there are any love letters written by Lucile or Cosmo to each other. Lucile obviously loved romance because her clothes are so beautiful and romantic
Actually...having considered Lady Duff Gordon's 'country life' (or, it would seem, the lack of it!) - Randy, I wonder if you would be so kind as to shed a bit more light on her time in London? I regularly pass through Lennox Gardens on my way to a friend's place, just around the corner, and I always make sure I walk past Lucy's house, trying my best to peer in as I do (never seeing anything very interesting, however). I like to imagine Lucy and Cosmo coming and going - most particularly, their return from New York in 1912 and the sheer relief they must have felt at coming home after such an ordeal. Are there any photographs extant, do you know, of the house as it was in Lucy's day? Meredith Etherington-Smith comments that her taste in interior decoration was much better than the 'hot-house' look favoured by her sister, so I tend to imagine elegant 'Louis' furniture and cool colour schemes, far removed from the clutter and fripperies of late-Victorian design. Maybe a few Duff Gordon heirlooms mixed up there too? As for the rest of the domestic arrangements...what about staff? A butler maybe? A cook and a couple of housemaids? Perhaps a chauffeur too?

I'm so sorry to ply you with so many questions, Randy. But, thanks in the main to the information I've gleaned from your previous postings on this site, I've become a devoted and ardent fan of Lucile and all things relating to this fascinating, courageous and talented woman. I'm endlessly curious to know more about her and the way in which she lived.

I, too, like to drive past 22 Lennox Gardens when I’m in London. It’s a lovely quiet street with such a pretty garden. I took pictures many years ago when the owner was thoughtful enough to have lace curtains and fresh flowers in the windows. On a recent visit, it looked like it was no longer lived in. I have seen old photos of some of Lucile’s house interiors but they are mostly from her Paris apartment and her Versailles villa. I have seen only one interior picture of the Lennox Gardens place and it is just a group shot of Lucile’s daughter’s wedding party, standing in the foyer. You can see a little bit of detail on the wall behind the group (a swag sort of motif, similar to the type she used in her salons) but not much of anything else really.

I have found a lot about the history of her time at Lennox Gardens such as the friends and guests she and Cosmo entertained there, and some stories of the times her grandchildren recall; her grandson, for instance, was quarantined there when he had the chicken pox!

Is there somewhere we can see the picture of the interior of Luciles house? It sounds enchanting.
The properties in Lennox Gardens are now mostly divided into 2-bedroomed flats. They come onto the market from time to time, and sell for around £2 million ($4 million) - leasehold only. Or you could rent for £150 per day. That's a little outside my range, but what better London base for a man of means like yourself, Randy!
Thanks so much for that, Randy. As ever, I'm fascinated to learn more about Lady Duff Gordon, her life and career. I'm sure that if the interiors of No. 22 in any way resembled those of the houses in Paris and Versailles, then they were supremely elegant.

Yes, Lennox Gardens is still a jolly nice place to live - very close to Harrod's and Sloane Square but quiet and secluded too. Whenever anybody reading this is next in the area, I would heartily recommend a trip to Baker and Spice, just around the corner on Denyer Street. It's far and away the best cafe/deli in town.

Randy - it occurs to me as I pump you for information that many of the answers to my questions will probably be contained in your forthcoming book. Any news on when it might be published? I'll be beating down the doors of Hatchard's the very first morning it hits the shelves. Feel free to tell me to be patient in the meantime.
I would also like to know when it will be published, I've been waiting ages, and getting impatient!!! I have a picture that I think might also be Lucile in her house. She is sitting by a window on a sofa. It looks like it is one of her own dresses, but I am not sure
How interesting. It sounds rather like a typical studio portrait of the era by one of the fashionable female photographers, Lallie Charles or Rita Martin. The 'sofa in front of a window' device is used time and time again - I've seen portraits of Consuelo Marlborough, Sara Murphy (before her marriage) and Princess Patricia of Connaught, all photographed against such a background.

Is yours an original print of the era?

Randy - idle curiosity know Lucy better than anybody else alive today. Do YOU have a favourite picture of her? One which you feel captures her character and spirit better than any other? I have two favourites - the Rita Charles, circa 1910, in which she is perched on an upholstered bench, reading a book; and the one used by Don Lynch in 'Titanic: An Illustrated History' - you know, Lucy in evening dress and bandeau, sitting sideways in an armchair, with an upturned chin and a slight smile, looking very knowing indeed!
Hi, guys or as some of you are British, I ought to say blokes!

Thanks to Bob for the info, but what a lot of rot about man of means. I wish it were true. I will only own a house when I inherit one!

Sashka & Martin (now that sounds like a circus act!) I will include info on the book in a post I intend to make later this weekend. I was asked to tell about the presentation I gave to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and some of the Lucile-related projects I’ve been working on so will include that all together.

Sashka: The picture to which you are referring is in the collection of the Library of Congress. It was taken in 1916-17 at Lucile’s beach house at Mamoroneck, Long Island. It was taken by the Marceau studios of New York, which she regularly used for her promotional photos. She is indeed wearing one of her own dresses. It was a basic design that she did versions of over the years. The dog at her feet in that image is her Chow Chow, Mahmud who figures in her autobiography.

Martin, I have to run but will come back later and answer your question about Lucile’s photos.