Fashion Designer, Titanic Survivor. She received notoriety at the turn of the 20th Century as a British fashion designer using the professional label of “Lucile.” Her salons, Lucile Ltd., had offices in London, England by 1903, the United States in the cities of Chicago and New York City by 1910, and Paris, France by 1911 . Her clientele included the wealthy elites such as Royals and celebrities of stage and the film industry. Her silent film debut in 1913 was dressing Alice Joyce in “The American Princess,” which had a scene showing many gowns in her “Lucile” salon. After this, she continued dressing famous Hollywood stars for nearly 80 films until 1930. Called Madame Lucile by the press, she published newspaper columns and magazine articles on fashion: “Her Wardrobe,” from 1912 to 1913 in “Good Housekeeping;” “The Last Word in Fashion,” from 1913 to 1921 in “Harper's Bazaar;” articles in “Ladies Home Journal;” in the Hearst newspapers syndicate from 1910 to 1921; and in England, “Letters to Dorothy” for the “London Daily Sketch” from 1922 to 1926. After World War I, she had a regular spot in the British newsreel “Around the Town.” During World War I, she mass-produced ready-to-wear fashions for Sears, Roebuck and Company that were featured in a mail-order catalog. Her name became a household word with her professional endorsements of productions such as female undergarments, perfume and other cosmetics, shoes and even automobile interiors for what would become Chrysler Corporation. She appeared in the short-play, “Lady Bluff Gordon's Dress Making Establishment,” as part of the musical revue “The Passing Show of 1916,” which played at the Winter Garden in New York City. She was the first to use actresses as live manikins or fashion models on a “catwalk,” thus the first fashion show. In 1917 she took her models to Broadway and then on a vaudeville tour in a musical fashion parade as a fund-raiser for the post-war French. Magazine reviews of her fashions were always amazing keeping her products popular. In 1918 she designed costumes for Clara Kimball Young, starring in “The Reason Why,” a film based on a novel authored by her sister, Elinor Glyn. Lucile had a way of making women more romantic and feminine by using yards of sheer pale-colored fabrics, which were draped in asymmetrical fashion, and held with tiny, hand-made silk flowers. Her most famous pieces were lingerie, tea-gowns, and evening wear, yet she designed simple, smart tailored suits and daytime apparel. Since her talents did not give to drawing sketches, she made her designs on a human form. She and her sister became known as the “It Girls.” On April 14, 1912 the Duffy-Gordons with her maid boarded the “RMS Titanic” to sail on an unplanned trip to New York City. Traveling first class, they used the names of “Mr. and Mrs. Morgan.” On the night the ship hit an iceberg, the Duff-Gordons with her maid were put in Lifeboat #1, which had the capacity for 40 but was lowered with only twelve in it of which seven were male shiphands. There was a heated discussion among those in the boat about the shiphands losing everything, whereas the Duff-Gordons would not. At that point, she promised them monetary assistance after they were rescued. After the rescues, rumors spread, which were printed in the newspapers, that the couple had bribed the crew not to rescue any survivors that were in the freezing waters for fear of the boat capsizing. Later, the couple was the only passengers that were called before the British Board of Trade Inquiry of the ship's sinking. Her husband was questioned at length. Appearing in black mourning clothes with a veil over her face, she stated she did not remember much of the ordeal. They were not found guilty of any wrongdoing, yet this impacted their professional reputation badly. In the 1958 film, “A Night to Remember” and the 1997 “Titanic,” the couple are characters in the screenplay. In 1917 she lost the New York Court of Appeals case of Wood vs Lucy, Lady Duff-Gordon when Judge Benjamin Cardozo made a new law. By the time this case had reached Cardozo, ruling in the lower court was for Wood, an appeal was in favor of Duff-Gordon, and he was making the third ruling. On April 1, 1915, she had signed a poorly-worded contract with Wood, an advertising agent, giving him exclusive right to market items using her professional name, “Lucile,” and receiving half of the revenues. In 1917 she marketed with Sears Roebuck a mail-order line of clothing using her upscale “Lucile” brand. She pleaded that since Wood had not done any advertising of any products, the contract was not valid, thus not entitled to any money. Cardozo ruled in favor of Wood. As the first case of this kind with a name brand, this ruling has become a stable in American and Canadian law textbooks. Born to a Canadian engineer Douglas Sutherland and his wife, Elinor Saunder, her christened name was Lucy Christiana Sutherland and lived her younger years in Canada. In 1884, she married James Stuart Wallace, had a daughter, separated for years before a divorce, thus becoming a penniless single mother with a child to support. She started making dresses in her home, before successfully expanding to a small shop and later a large one in London. After meeting Sir Cosmo Duff-Gordon, a wealthy Scottish landowner, she went into a financial partnership with him before marrying him in 1900. Through his connections, she was able to meet English royalty. They were successful for many years but by the time of his death in 1931, she was once again penniless. She published her 1932 autobiography, “Discretions and Indiscretions.” She died in a nursing home from pneumonia, a complication of breast cancer. Internationally, there have been numerous biographies written, television productions, and fashion displays, even at the Titanic Museum, about her life and fashions.
Bio by: Linda Davis
Cosmo Edmund Duff-Gordon