Lucile designs exhibited in Los Angeles


Randy Bryan Bigham

Hi, all:

Thanks to Don Lynch for the heads up about the inclusion of some Lucile originals in the current costume design exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. He's going to be attending soon and I thought that other friends of ET who live in the area might also like to stop in and see Lucile's work featured along with those of other designers and artists of her day.

Despite the fact that the exhibition is curated by a generally quite inspired Kaye Spilker of LACMA's costume/textiles department, it has been given a clunky title - "Erte/Opera & Ballets Russes/Dance: Theatre Costume."

I read that and thought "What?"

Anyway, don't let that keep you from going to see and enjoying what is, I'm sure, an unbelievably striking and meticulously authentic display of early 20th century theatrical costumes as well as couture fashions influenced by the theatre.

The turn of the last century saw an explosion in the visual development of the performing arts. Stage designers, scenic artists, choreographers and costume designers were challenging the old aesthetics and charting new courses in color, line, movement and perspective. In particular, the Ballets Russe of Diaghilev's legendary conception, forever altered modern theatre on its international introduction in 1909 - the scintillating, yet whimsical costumes of Leon Bakst being largely responsible for the furore that resulted.

Apparently, not only are some of Bakst's designs included in the LACMA offering but so are costumes by artists Henri Matisse and Sonia Delaunay. I haven't been able to determine the names of all the various designers.

The largest collection of costumes on view (both in actual garment and in sketch form) are of course by the inimitable and ubiquitous Erte, whose phenomenal impact on fashion as an illustrator, stylist and designer spanned the years 1911 to 1975, an unprecedented career in both duration and importance.

Lucile is represented in the display by an undetermined selection and number of costumes so I am eagerly awaiting Don's report! He said some friends have already attended the show and were quite impressed by the display of her designs.

Lucile's own influence on fashion through the medium of the theatre, both in Europe and in America, was greater even than Erte's during the years just before and during WWI. She dressed all the top stars in musical comedy (Lily Elsie, Gertie Millar), in dance (Irene Castle, Isadora Duncan), in opera (Mary Garden, Geraldine Farrar) and in ballet (Anna Pavlova, Lydia Lapokova).

As I say, I have no idea which costumes among LACMA's fine collection of Lucile's work are being exhibited in this show but I am pretty sure that the dress she made for opera diva Ganna Walska (in the 1920s) is among them.

LACMA, by the way, has about 20 Luciles in its permanent collection, including two from 1912, one being a fabulous pearl-embroidered wedding dress which has been exhibited at the museum several times.

For more information on the exhibit, please visit (Click on the Erte sketch in the second column to go the relevant page).

LACMA is opened Mondays-Tuesdays, noon-8 p.m.; Fridays noon-9 p.m.; and Saturdays-Sundays, 11 a.m.-8 p.m. It's closed on Wednesdays.

The show, which opened Dec. 14, will be on through April 4.

Well, enough chatter. Go see this show and be enthralled!

Sounds like something even a clothes clod like me would be interested in, Randy - and even aside from the Lucile inclusions!

Btw - do you (or anyone else) know if they've completed that work they were doing at the V&A and put the Lucile gowns back on display? We were a somewhat disgruntled group last time we went in there after a visit to the Science Museum, in quest of the lovely Lucile frocks I've seen there in the past, only to find bare display cases.
Hi, Inger:

Clothes clod, my arse. You picked out quite fetching frocks even without my guidance last year!

I recall you (and also Ben Holme) mentioning to me at the time about getting cheated out of the V&A Lucile display. I'm unclear though. Were ALL the costume cases gone or just the Lucile section? I may have to write one of my nervy little epistles - "My Good Woman..." etc, etc.

Thought I'd pass along some more Lucile exhibit news. At the New York Fashion Institute of Technology (my old stomping grounds and where I was first bit by the Lucile bug), the museum's special collections department is mounting a display of some of their best historic designer memorabilia - sketches, swatches, scrapbooks, etc.

Lucile will come in for special treatment as the college's collection of her work is exquisite. FIT's Lucile archive is also the largest and most comprehensive in the US (apart from my own stash of course!)

For those who might like to see the FIT exhibit in New York, it will be on view from June 19 - July 31, 2004. It will be called "Treasures of FIT's Special Collections."

Times are: Tues - Fri, noon-8pm; Saturday 10am-5pm. Closed Sundays, Mondays, and legal holidays. Admission to the exhibitions is free.

The school's located on the Southwest corner of 7th Avenue at 27th Street. (The museum can be reached by subway: 1, 9, C, E, F, V, N, or R, and by bus: M10. Penn Station is close by at 31st Street for the Long Island Railroad, New Jersey Transit, and Amtrak).

I lived in the dorm there on W. 27th St., between 7th and 8th Ave. and well do I remember the starvation, the cramming for tests, the parties that got shut down, the clubs we snuck into. I admit this was in the 1980s so you can imagine what the clothes were like and the hair! Oh those awful hairstyles. In looking at old pictures of us punked-out kids, we all seemed like Thompson Twins or Cyndi Lauper rejects!

And to think that those fashions are already historic! I modeled for a Vivienne Westwood show during my time at school there. I met her when she came to give a talk and I was one of the kids she picked to wear some of her things. I wore the most absurd looking concoction of zippers and belts that you could imagine. And thought I looked so cool. Believe me, I DO NOT want to see myself in a photo in some museum someday wearing that crap.

Westwood was fun though - I quizzed her about Lucile and she said "Oh yes, dear Lady Duff - she invented punk, you know. Not me!" (she referred to Lucile's introduction of "tetes de couleurs" which were colored wigs for evening wear in blue, purple, green, etc). I remember that Westwood couldn't believe an American teenager knew who the hell Lucile was.

That exhibition sounds sooo interesting but I'm afraid it'll be a far way for a weekend trip from Germany... It would have been great seeing some of Luciles dresses in color. But could you please go and pick me a fine dress for the BTS convention in April there??

Nice story about Vivienne Westwood. She must've been pretty puzzled to meet such an expert.

Many regards
Hi, Christine:

"...But could you please go and pick me a fine dress for the BTS convention in April there?? ..."

You bet. I'll have my cronies hustle you a couple of Luciles out the back door!

"...Nice story about Vivienne Westwood. She must've been pretty puzzled to meet such an expert..."

Ha, ha! Yeah right. She was REAL impressed. Which is why I got turned down for a job by her shop 2 years later!

Best to you,
Lol! I wonder if Westwood would also have given Queen Elizabeth I some credit for 'punk'? I seem to recall the Virgin Queen donning a green wig to go with a mermaid dress at a fancy costume party (although I've sometimes wondered about that, given some of the symbolism invested in mermaids at the time).

BTS frocks are always fun to discuss - although I don't see how you're going to top last year's effort, Christine! Am eagerly anticipating what you'll come up with, though. I'm eschewing pink in future to go with my more signature black or flaming red, in the usual silks or velvets.

It wasn't just Lucile turfed out at the V&A, I'm happy to report, Randy - frocks in general were scarce on the ground as they were working on the costume display area. I imagine she has been reinstated, along with the rather fun caption on one of the dresses. Wish I could remember the exact wording, but it pointed out that the gown was rather more streamlined (or simple, or something akin to it) than was characteristic of the designer!
Ha! I so can imagine you wearing a dark trenchcoat and glasses, "inconspicuously" vanishing through the back doors, loaded with glittering, beads shining, fabric - Totally unselfish of course ;) *lol* Still enough time until April.

Ing, it's still possible. Just found THIS in an online store:

For the bargain of just 895 $$$ *bitterlystartingtocry*

Oh, Christine, that is simply scrumptious! I wish I were a better seamstress so I could recreate it. Hey, where's Kate "Emily Baldwin" Bortner? She can sew fabulously.

Kyrila "Mamie Baldwin" Scully
Inger, that's a great reference to The Virgin Queen - I had not heard of her foray into colored wigs!

And Christine, I second Kyrila's excitement over the picture you posted above. It definitely has the "wow" factor going for it. That dress is a very characteristic 1911-12 style.

In looking through my list of some of the Lucile costumes at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, I note a very detailed card catalog description of one dress which I believe is probably a version of the model below. So maybe it's included in the show.

This stunning Lucile design - which, believe it or not, is a tea-gown, not an evening model - has an underdress of flesh-pink charmeuse over which is draped a caftan-like robe of completely sheer black chiffon, bordered with patterned, shot-silver tissue. Note the drop waisted effect (a foretaste of the 1920s)and the tassels that trim the wide, scarf-like sleeves.

The woman in the picture is silent screen star Clara Kimball Young. The man behind the camera (and responsible for setting up this lush scene of calla lilies and assorted chinoiserie) is society and fashion photographer Baron de Meyer, whose back-lit, soft focus images were the rage.

The dress, after it was launched by Clara Kimball Young in the film "The Reason Why," was included in Lucile's Autumn 1918 collection. It was No. 27 in her programme for that season and carried the suitably romantic name "My Conquest."

The picture originally appeared in Vogue magazine for April 1, 1918.


Original Caption:


Over a foundation of flesh-coloured charmeuse, Lucile has allowed her fancy to play along lines that are Florentine, but with a thought to the Orient in a combination of black and silver. A chemise of black chiffon slips over the head and is draped on the side. The long loose sleeves, which are finished with silver tassels, form one piece across the front and back of the tea-gown.
Hi, all:

A belated update (my apologies) on the costume exhibit currently on at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

As I mentioned, Don attended the show recently and, thanks to him, I have the following review of the event to post. I'm sure everyone will agree that you couldn't ask for a better correspondent than Don Lynch, whose eye catches every detail and nuance, no matter what the subject might be - even that of yesteryear fashions, as in this case:

Don writes:

"...The exhibit was excellent. Most of the costumes were from early 20th Century stage productions. They actually had a film of scenes from one of them, which was interesting to compare with the actual 'stumes. There were a number of others which had photographs or sketches of the outfit.

One section was how costumes inspired everyday clothing, which I thought was quite a bit of a stretch, but it allowed them to bring out some period dresses from the collection.

Among these were three by Lucile. Two were daytime outfits from about 1918. One was quite nice, a yellow dress designed for a member of the Crocker family. The other was exceptionally wide below the waist which was either a very ugly design reminiscent of several centuries earlier, or the lady for whom it was designed deserves our sympathy.

The third belonged to Mrs. Dockweiler. It was a black net pajama outfit, although until I read that I didn't realize it. The skirt over the lower part went so low that you only realized when reading the description that it was gathered around each ankle underneath. There were huge, heavy, bright green cuffs. It was actually my favorite outfit in the entire exhibit.

Fully half the exhibit was a collection of costumes worn by Ganna Walska designed by Erte. Many of them had the sketches accompanying them. There were also numerous other Erte sketches.

There was a brief section which talked about "fancy dress balls." Included was a huge photograph of six members of a family dressed as various historic European royalty for a ball in the 1920's. Five of the six outfits were on display.

It was interesting that you mentioned in your email that the Los Angeles County Museum of Art has a Lucile outfit designed for Mrs. Doheny. The Dohenys lived across the street from Walter Clark's parents, and were aboard the Olympic at the time of the Titanic disaster. Last year I took a tour of the Doheny home, which was open for the first time to the public since 1965.

You've probably seen it in films as it is rented out for such on occasion. The dome over the conservatory is reportedly the largest Tiffany "window" in the world. Their son's house in Beverly Hills, Greystone, is very often in movies, commercials, etc.

Photography was not allowed in the costume exhibit, or I would gladly go back and get photographs for you..."


Thanks again to Don for the review and for sharing the extra bit about the Clark/Titanic connection to the Doheny family.

Here's a close-up of the harem-style trousers peeping from under the fringed tunic. Photo also courtesy of Tara McGinnis and "The Costumer's Manifesto" (

Great Pictures Randy, I can't imagine they were actually used as pajamas though. Were they used only in the house or did they go out in them?
Mmmmm....Greeeeeen...! (cue Homer drool).

Interesting report - very nice images. Have you got your mits on a catalogue for the exhibition yet, Randy?
Hi, Vicki and Inger:

About the pajamas - no, they wouldn't have been used as sleeping pajamas. This costume would have served as a hostess gown or a teagown. And no, it would not have been worn outside the home. It was Lucile's couture nemesis, Paul Poiret, who advocated the "jupe culotte" for everyday wear. Lucile deplored the suggestion of women wearing trousers - which she disparagingly called "harem britches" - as street wear but she was keen on them for lingerie and evening wear.

It's good to see you Vicki. How have you been? And your mother? It seems forever since Salado.

And Ing, no I have not got hold of a catalogue yet but I hope to soon. I assume you have solved your recent shopping dilemma, which you shared lately, and have taken my advice about red. I can't wait to see what you and Jemma will cook up for your gala gowns this year. I hope you all have a grand time.

I will be coming out in July to L.A. - my first trip to the West Coast, actually - and hope to do a bit of research at LACMA as well as at UCLA where there is a Lucile archive.

So I am much looking forward to seeing some of the great outfits first-hand.