Encyclopedia Titanica

‘Unsinkable Lucile’ by Hugh Brewster

How a Farm Girl Became the Queen of Fashion and Survived the Titanic

Titanic Review

    Hide Ads
Unsinkable Lucile
Unsinkable Lucile
Lucile in her shop
Lucy Wallace (later Duff Gordon) discusses a dress with a client in her first ‘Lucile’ fashion shop, London, 1893.
(Illustration by Laurie McGaw.)

‘She almost went down with the Titanic but came right up again.’

Already praised by Publisher’s Weekly for its “novelistic flare,” adding that its text and imagery “evoke the spirit of the age,” a small but beautiful book about a famous Edwardian lady proves she was more than a survivor of the Titanic but a courageous and inspiring figure in the evolving status of women at the turn of the 20th century.

Unsinkable Lucile: How a Farm Girl Became the Queen of Fashion and Survived the Titanic by Hugh Brewster — called “stylish and significant” by Kirkus Reviews — is a 40-page, 10x10-in. volume for children illustrated by Laurie McGaw. Published internationally by Firefly Books, Unsinkable Lucile was released September 1st and features the consultation of Randy Bryan Bigham, a dress historian specializing in the Edwardian era.

The true life story of Lucy Duff Gordon, a Canadian who rose to fame as ‘Lucile,’ one of the most glamorous designers of the early 1900s, the book is full of the romance of ambition, high society and Paris fashion. It also touches on the catastrophe Lucy escaped by surviving the sinking of the Titanic. As British magazine Harper’s & Queen once wrote of Lucile: “She almost went down with the Titanic but came right up again.” 

Lucile on the boat deck
“Ought we not to be doing something?” Lucy asks her husband and secretary on the Boat Deck of the sinking Titanic as she points to a lifeboat preparing to lower, emergency cutter No. 1.
(Illustration by Laurie McGaw.)

Fascinating enough for adults to enjoy, Unsinkable Lucile is a broadly interesting yet tightly focused historical study of a woman who captivated the world through her peekaboo lingerie designs, uncorseted tea gowns and big, feathered “Merry Widow” hats. The sense of drama she highlighted through the fashion shows she was the first to produce transformed her elegant salons into magnificently staged spectacles. In Lucile’s hands, high fashion became a theatrical and media phenomenon almost overnight.

McGaw’s paintings, of which there are 13, capture Lucile’s adventures and one notorious misadventure – the Titanic on which she set sail with her husband and secretary in 1912, surviving the disaster in an under-loaded lifeboat which brought public scrutiny, press criticism and a court hearing.

Lucile on the boat deck
Lucy greeting a fashion show audience during a World War I charity tour.
(lllustration by Laurie McGaw.)

Yet Lucile emerged triumphant, ignoring spiteful rumors and conquering the worlds of style, stage and film with her trendsetting fashions for celebrities, including royalty, and the costumes she created for plays and movies. Her influence lasted well into the 1920s.

Brewster, a former publisher, has worked with McGaw before on several other Titanic titles of juvenile interest, most famously the book Polar the Titanic Bear (1994). He also previously consulted Bigham for his bestselling adult non-fiction book, Gilded Lives, Fatal Voyage: The Titanic’s First Class Passengers and Their World (2012).

The background of Unsinkable Lucile is superbly wrought by Brewster and beautifully pictured by McGaw, based on the fashion history research of Bigham who has contributed to Women’s Wear Daily and Vogue and wrote a biography of the couturiere Lucile – Her Life by Design (2012). 

Brewster and McGaw are beginning a Canadian-American book tour of libraries, museums and other venues with Unsinkable Lucile. 

Unsinkable Lucile by Hugh Brewster
Illustrations by Laurie McGaw
Historical Consultation by Randy Bryan Bigham
Published by Firefly Books, September 1, 2022

Lucile on the boat deck


  Send New Information

Comment and discuss

Leave a comment Watch Thread

Find Related Items


Encyclopedia Titanica (2023) ‘Unsinkable Lucile’ by Hugh Brewster (Titanic Review, ref: #718, published 27 March 2023, generated 30th May 2023 01:35:54 AM); URL : https://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/unsinkable-lucile-by-hugh-brewster-a-review.html