The Renaissance of Lucile


Randy Bryan Bigham

Lucile (Lady Duff Gordon) is having a renaissance period of late. Not only does an incredible Lucile evening gown go to auction today at the Doyle galleries in New York, but the Museum of London’s latest big exhibition, "The London Look," features a Lucile opera cloak that almost perfectly matches it! In addition, the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York is putting on an exhibit, beginning in February, devoted to Lucile’s work. Also a smaller display, focusing on Lucile and her sister, Elinor Glyn, is currently being sponsored by the Museums of Mississauga in Canada, called "Racy Relatives."

My own biography of Lucile may be published by the Costume Society of America next year but I am still considering the option of publishing it myself.

It is great to see the light shining on this extraordinary woman once more. I’ve done my best to get the ball rolling with curators and scholars and I’m very pleased with how she is being taken up now.

Here are some links:

The Museum of London has a special site devoted to "The London Look." Click on the link on the homepage (left side). Once on the main page for the "London Look," to see the coat by Lucile, select her name from the designer list.

To see the Lucile evening dress at Doyle New York go to the company’s homepage:
To see more pictures and read more about the dress, its owner and the designer, go to eBay:

To read about the upcoming Lucile show at the Fashion Institute go to:

And this is a site with information about the Canadian exhibit devoted to Lucile and her sister:
WOW!!! I just noticed that the Lucile auction closed and the dress went for a whopping $30,000, way above what was expected. This is definitely a world record for a Lucile costume at auction, the next highest sale being $12,000.
Here's an article that is going into syndication,written by Helene Drouais. I think it’s going into Women's Wear Daily first:

Lucile Thrill:
Old threads, new focus

Forgotten designer
Enjoys renaissance

What’s old is always new again when it comes to vintage haute couture.

Currently enjoying a renaissance among connoisseurs of antique chic is the work of British-based design guru "Lucile." The queen of fashionistas nearly a century ago, Lucile invented the runway style show and made lingerie sexy when sexy was a sin.

As the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology prepares its exhibition, Designing the ‘It Girl:’ Lucile and Her Style, another major exhibit, The London Look: From Street to Catwalk, is underway at the Museum of London. Covering many aspects of UK fashion innovation, a section of the display spotlights Lucile, the so-called "Dressmaker of Dreams."

Meantime, Doyle New York, auctioned on Nov. 16 an exotic 1910 Lucile evening dress that fetched $30,000. The eastern-influenced gown of purple voided velvet, set off with a fringed, citron lame sash, is believed to have been the designer’s tribute to her friend, Russian Ballet costumer Leon Bakst.

"Lucile was an original," said Clair Watson, Doyle New York’s director of couture and textiles. "She dropped necklines, slit skirts and did away with corsets. In the sexually adventurous world of Edwardian society, the freedom of her uncorseted gowns had its uses. As with all great designers, there is a modernity about Lucile that is as relevant today as it was then. Her femininity and creativity led to an understanding of the women of her time and their needs, from the emotional, through the intellectual, to the sensual."

Randy Bryan Bigham of Dallas, Texas, author of a pending biography of the couture pioneer, said Lucile was a showman as well as an artist.

"Lucile started a lot of things that are common practice in fashion today," Bigham said. "The fashion show with a stage and music and an audience of celebrities began in Lucile’s salon in London, right across the street from the offices of British Vogue. She made fashion a media event."

Lucile — in private life Lady Duff Gordon — was as famous as her exclusive clientele, which included a roster of notables ranging from Queen Mary to Mary Pickford. The sister of novelist and screenwriter Elinor Glyn (who proclaimed Clara Bow the "It Girl"), Lucile survived the sinking of the Titanic, several unhappy marriages and a spate of high profile court cases, becoming, as biographer Bigham said, ‘the Martha Stewart of her day."

But it was her clothes that counted. And, nearly 70 years after her death, Lucile’s clothes still count with museum curators and private collectors.

"Lucile’s style is back in the fashion zeitgeist," said Watson. "And there will be a resurgence of interest in her, which in turn will spawn further research, which will cement her importance and place her in the forefront for a whole new generation."

Kevin Jones of Los Angeles, a leading private collector of vintage high fashion, agrees.

"I love her things because of their workmanship and their beautiful color combinations," said Jones, who owns several Lucile costumes. "There’s a great saucy vibe about Lucile’s designs. You just know women had fun in them!"

The Museum at FIT’s Lucile retrospective opens February 28, 2005, running through April 16. The Museum of London’s exhibition is also on display through May 2005. Bigham’s biography is on tap for publication next year as part of Texas Tech University Press’ Costume Society of America Series.

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Lucile gown that sold at auction today for $30,000
(Photo courtesy of Doyle New York)
That is a rather lovely item, Randy - if I had a spare $30,000, I'd happily pick it up.

It seems to me - from a layperson's POV! - that it's a natural thing for Lucile to be undergoing a revival. I went spurging shopping last night, and was struck anew by how much ornamentation is back in with clothes this season. I nearly picked up a very 20's frock with elaborate beading, gathering etc. (then realised that a.) I don't need more evening wear and b.) I certainly do need more summer weight suits for work). It's a pity, though, that not all of this season's designer's follow Lucile's example of not tipping over that fine line between elaborate attention to detail and tizziness.

What would she have made of all the greens I'm seeing around this Spring/Summer in Oz?

Looks like your work will be well-timed to ride the crest of this popularity.
Normally, I would question a woman's reason (and sanity?) for paying $30,000 for an article of clothing, hehe, but under the circumstances, this is tied to Titanic through the Lady Duff Gordon. That makes it unique and special (sort of like a piece of charcoal from the ocean floor being worth a pretty penny simply because it came from Titanic? although I wouldn't be one to disturb the site by retrieving a piece of coal).

It's a pretty dress, very elegant - 'flash from the past' regarding what they wore in the early twentieth century. Just curious: Would this have been just like a dress actually worn by women on Titanic? I wonder if Cameron saw this or other photos like it....
Hi, Inger and Mark:

Ing, you’ve got what I call "gut sense" about fashion and you’d be great in one of those mock-flapper frocks. And what woman can’t use another evening dress? J

You are right, too, that some of the things this season seem over the top. As for the greens of now, Lucile would approve. She loved the color for herself but had to work around the superstitions of clients who regarded green as bad luck. It was a common belief in that day, especially among theatre people. Lillie Langtry told Lucile she was frightened of wearing so much as a green ribbon on her clothes!

Mark, you said it as far as a $30,000 price tag goes. It is a pretty piece of change but by no means as high as bidders go when it comes to these period dresses. A wedding gown by Worth from the same era went for hundreds of thousands of dollars. By the way, the buyer was not a woman. It was a man, a Brazilian stylist (so I’m told) who dresses several big name stars, including Nicole Kidman. Will we see her on the red carpet in this? Hmmmm….

As to whether women on Titanic would have worn similar styles — absolutely. The fashions had not changed much in two years, except as to trimmings and accessories. Cameron employed a team of top designers whose business it is to know historic costume. The designers, whose names escape me just now, did a fine job.

Both the main designers were quoted in the press at the time of the movie as saying they were influenced by Lucile in their work. In fact, a Lucile original was actually worn by someone in the film. I am not sure if it made it into any of the scenes but on the E! Channel, just before the premier, I remember watching an interview with the designers which showed them holding up the dress that was a Lucile — it was a white chiffon and lace dress with blue ribbon trim. If anybody sees it when they watch the movie, drop me a line because I have not been able to absolutely identify it! L

I have wondered if it’s the one that Kate Winslet herself wears in the dream sequence at the end when she rejoins Jacks on the stairs. She is never shown full-length in it, which is a clue, because the dress the designers showed was too short in length to be used for the period (it looked to have been from the teens or 20s).

A member has posted another reminder elsewhere about the upcoming Lucile exhibition at the Fashion Institute of Technology.

But I just thought I would add that there is a great deal of interest manifested in this show from many in the costume and museum fields and I hope it goes off well. The students have done a terrific job from what I understand and I think they will do Lucile proud.

I am still waiting to hear which photos of Lady Duff Gordon they want to use from my collection. The curators of the dress part of this display might also use the Lucile peignoir I have, which is quite rare as almost none of Lucile’s lingerie designs, for which she was so well-known, have survived in public or private collections. This example is extra -special as it was an incredibly generous gift from Lady Duff Gordon’s family.

I know the students were also in touch not long ago with Phillip Gowan, who owns the lovely Fortuny kimono that Lady Duff Gordon wore off the Titanic, but I’m not sure whether the garment will be on view or not. That piece is very remarkable and is (I think) still a feature of the Titanic exhibition that’s been on tour in England for some time.

Here’s a direct link to FIT’s press release for the coming show, Designing the ‘It’ Girl:

Looking forward to the March opening, and plan to take a large group from the University of Rhode Island Design and Textile School and the Costume Society of America to see Lucile in all her glory. I have worn them out talking about her and they want to see some of those confections firsthand. My final exam for conservation class will be at FIT this weekend when we go down to see the couture accessory exhibit and the Form Follows Fashion exhibition-should be fun.
Rosecliff mansion in Newport came alive once again yesterday with the fashions of Lucile at an afternoon event featuring students from the Fashion Institute in New York. The afternoon began with a brilliant preview of the work Rebecca Kelly has done in bringing Gilded Age family, The David Kings of Kingscote, to light. Many old Louis Vuitton trunks were found in the attic of Kingscote mansion about two years ago and the fashions, diaries, letters and photos have been restored and preserved for exhibit in the Rosecliff galleries. The result is a real window on Gilded Age life in a wealthy society family. This is well worth a stop if you find yourself in Newport. Then followed six enchanting powerpoint presentations on the creation of the "It Girl" which mirror the spectacular F.I.T. Lucile exhibit currently on display in Manhattan, and which closes on April 16th. Most exciting of course was Lucile and the Titanic, and I saw a photo of Lady D.G. and Cosmo with several others from their lifeboat, one wearing his lifejacket, which I had never seen before, and several photos of the pair going in to give testimony. There was a charming presentation on Lucile's vast contributions to stage, and then Hollywood and films, with the highlight for me being vintage film clips from "Perils of Pauline" with Pearl White, many stills from the expensive but unsuccessful "Gloria's Romance" with Billie Burke. the 1916 "The Strange Case of Mary Page" with Edna Mayo, and America's sweetheart, Mary Pickford in a fascinating 1917 role in "The Little American" where Mary plays Angela Moore, a spy aboard the "Visitania" which is hit by a German torpedo as background to her being romanced by a french Count and a German Ambassador. The ship is a dead ringer for another ship we all know, right down to the scene where she comes down the Grand Staircase for dinner. Many stills in "Way Down East"(starring Lillian Gish) showed off the Lucile creations to perfection, one film clip (silent of course) has the subtitle "Where is the top!!?" and a modest Miss Gish feeling unclothed in an especially diaphanous evening gown. A prim Boston matron solves the dilemma by swathing the reluctant debutante in miles of tulle -which eventually falls from her shoulders. The ne'r-do-well suitor, who lures poor Lillian (Anna Moore) oogles her up and down as she descends the staircase in her revealing confection with this subtitle : "She was like a whip to his jaded appetite!". They don't make 'em like that anymore! Each presentation captured the essence of the forward-thinking and revolutionary Lady D.G. and paid tribute her ideals of the Romantic, the Exotic, and The Modern. It was wonderful to see the Francatelli sisters, and endless photographs of Lucile's famous royal and celebrity clients clad in divine tea gowns, evening frocks including the sumptuous 1904 Gowns of Emotion and sportswear. Much was shown of her goddess-like models, Phyllis Francatelli, Hebe, Dinarzade, Arjamand and the exotic Dolores, whom Sir Cecil Beaton described as slithering around "like impertinent lobsters". Not one delightful drop of Lucile's unparalled career was missed, from The Merry Widow with Lily Elsie and that unforgettable hat, to her last "It Girl", Cecile Sorrel, and a wonderful tribute to the Castles, Irene and Vernon in a presentation called "Dressed for the Dance". I was overjoyed to see Titanic's own Mrs. Cardeza in a tinted portrait- she too had a Lucile original in one of those 14 trunks! A splendid afternoon all around. I have begged the six young women for excerpts from their exciting lectures, which , hopefully will be forthcoming here soon.
Court Dressmaker to Couturiere: The Creation of the Lucile Style
Lucile Unlimited, The Expansion of the Lucile Style
Fashioning the Four Hundred: Elinor Glyn's Life in Society
The Unsinkable Lucile: Fashion and Scandal Aboard the Titanic
Dressed for the Dance
Romancing the Silent Screen: Lucile and her Film Star Clients =146&pageid=3621&sidepageid=3621
Forgot to mention that Rosecliff was chosen for the venue because Lady D.G. had held a fashion show here in 1915 for benefit of war orphans. The models came down this fabulous staircase.
Unfortunately the photo above was done late in the day and does not show the true red color of the carpet and velvet drape. This was also the scene for The Great Gatsby (I lived in Newport when it was filming and had a chance to watch from afar) and more recently Tessie Oelrich's famous ballroom, where this Lucile seminar took place, was showcased in True Lies with Arnold Swarzenegger doing a mean tango- I suspect Lucile might have approved. The enormous baccarat crystal chandeliers have wells for the perfume Tess would feature at her famous White Ball. One year she even had a faux fleet of sailing ships (facades) floated offshore so guests looking out the ballroom windows at the ocean would think the fleet was landing. And nowadays we are thrilled to bits to find a party favor at our place setting! Cole Porter had a room at the top of the stairs on the left of the landing. There is a silver cocktail shaker and drinks tray set up still in tribute. He had a piano in the room as well, and often those great tunes came wafting down the staircase.
Shelley and Randy.....I'm not sure where to post this.....I figured this would be a good spot since the last date was Apr.'05...
My grandmother worked as a seamstress for LDG in NY...I remember my mother talking about it. I have photos of some of the seamstresses(my grandmother being one of them) on the roof of the building clowning around, probably on their lunch break !!!! I just spent the day printing info about LDG. This will be the added info to the scrapbook I am compiling of my grandparents.. My mother would have loved the would my grandmother....thank you for making this an interesting site.
Ellen Lennon