Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Lady Duff Gordon - the designer behind Lucile, not Lady Duff lingerie


So, who is Lady Duff Gordon? She was born Lucy Sutherland in 1863. After a failed marriage, she began to support herself by making dresses in her home. By 1894 she had opened her own shop in London and designed under the name 'Lucile'
In 1900, she married her business partner Sir Cosmo Duff-Gordon, who helped her to manage and grow her business into a worldwide success. 'Lucile' designs developed a following of wealthy women including royalty and popular actresses of the time, and the Lucile company eventually opened salons in New York, Paris and Chicago by the early 1900s. Lucy also designed the clothing for Theater productions and silent movies.

Lucy is said to be the first designer to stage a runway fashion show with live models that she trained to walk in her clothing. She wrote fashion columns for newspapers and Harper's Bazaar for many years during the teens. She also did a ready-wear collection that was sold by mail order through Sears around in the late teens. Young designers like Howard Greer and Edward Molyneux worked for her. She designed elegant daywear, eveningwear and lingerie.


Another part of her fame involves the Titanic. Lucy & Cosmo were passengers on the Titanic, she was even referenced in the Titanic movie as being the designer of 'naughty lingerie' . Lucy, her secretary and Cosmo were in a lifeboat that only had 12 people in it, including several crew men. Money changed hands between Cosmo and the crew men. Cosmo was accused of bribing the crew men to let him on the lifeboat but the Duff-Gordons claimed that the money was a generous gift to help the crew men until they found new jobs.

In the late Teens, Lucy lost the rights to her own name in a legal battle. A restructuring of the Lucile company was done, and Lucy lost control of the designs and was unhappy with the quality of the clothing being produced. She left the company that she founded in the early 1920s and it failed shortly after.
In London, she designed for a small private clientele under the name Lady Duff Gordon for a short time. After the death of her husband, she was said to be struggling financially. She died at age 71 in a London nursing home in 1935.


Now. The earliest info that I can find about Lady Duff lingerie is from 1934. It was a US company that produced nice quality lingerie. Lucy Lady Duff Gordon did not design for this company. She did not own this company - she was a sickly, financially strapped woman in a nursing home in London.


Why the hub-bub about Lady Duff Gordon and Lady Duff Lingerie?

A few years ago, a seller listed a Lady Duff item, and attributed to Lady Duff Gordon. A few people on ebay's Vintage Clothing and Accessories Board contacted her to give her the correct info and they were disappointed that she didn't change the auction, she just added a note at the bottom, leaving the Lady Duff Gordon info in the auction.

Recently I found another Lady Duff item on ebay, and again it was attributed to Lady Duff Gordon in the listing. The item has since sold and good for her. But hopefully her customer bought the gown because she loved it, and not because she thought the nightgown was actually designed by the real Lady Duff Gordon.
I know that two people contacted her with the correct information that Lady Duff Gordon was not involved with Lady Duff Lingerie, but for whatever reason she didn't listen.

Also in her listing, she had a photo that she has labeled 'Lady Duff Gordon 1929'. In 1929 Lady Duff Gordon would have been about 65. There is no way that the photo was Lady Duff Gordon in 1929, unless at 65 years old she had the face of a 20 year old! She also said in the listing that the gown was 1930s. But if you see the photo of the label which she included in the listing, it clearly says Rayon and NYLON. Nylon wouldn't have been used in lingerie until the mid 1940s.
So going by the 'information' in her auction, Lady Duff Gordon was a really amazing person. She was a famous designer whose company 'Lucile' was still successful 10 years after it was dissolved. She survived the Titanic. She started and designed for a new US company called 'Lady Duff' while she was sick and struggling financially in an English nursing home. She continued to design after her death, using fabric that wasn't available to the rest of the world for another 10 years!

This may seem petty and insignificant, but incorrect information like this spreads online. Now her auction is out there for anyone else looking for information about Lady Duff lingerie. If someone were to just go and search ebay completed listing looking for info, they will see that listing, and not know that the information is wrong - because she didn't have the integrity to make the changes to the listing. ebay is not a good research tool, there is so much bad info and incorrect dating on ebay and etsy, you need to look beyond them for your research.

I can understand searching Lady Duff Lingerie and in seeing info about Lady Duff Gordon, you might assume that they were related. But thorough research would prove otherwise.
The point of this post - do thorough research and if someone emails you with information, check it out, recheck your facts. Hopefully in the future, someone doing research for Lady Duff lingerie will see this post instead of that auction and know the correct information.

P.S. While doing research on 'Lucile' for this post, I discovered that Lady Duff Gordon's great-great granddaughter has revived the 'Lucile' name and is designing her own line of 'naughty lingerie'.

Here are some great photos of Lady Duff Gordon's Lucile clothing at The Fashion Spot

7 comments:

CEMETARIAN We Dig Memories said...

Thank you, Vintageloveranomyous for clarifying this issue. I've often wondered about the connection. Now I know.

Amandainvermont said...

Great Information - Let's hope the buyer of that latest auction gets the correct facts!

melina bee said...

An informative and wonderful article! Thanks from the history nerd who lives inside me!

figure8studio said...

Oh my! Thank you so much vintageloversanonymous! Every vintage collector, seller...should have this type of information available to them.

You rock!

figure8studio said...

and I wanted to add

Good for her granddaughter! I hope she does well with the business.

Haute Country Vintage Co. said...

Thanks so much for the great article! Being a huge fan of vintage lingerie in general, i'd often wondered at some of those tales told in the listings were actually true regarding the real Lady Duff of Titanic fame :)

Anonymous said...

I rember that Lady Duff auction and all the controversy on the VCA. The seller left the information about Lady Duff Gordon in the auction, ignored suggestions from other sellers that she restart the auction, and included comments from ASQs that added to the confusion.
I used to lurk on the VCA several years ago because there were experienced sellers who shared good knowledge. Most of them are gone now and now, I lurk there occasionally for a good laugh at some of the ricidulous guesses and opinions, and popularity contests that go on over there.
And that is exactly how bad information gets sprea. Someone new to the board would think that the sellers know what they are talking about and might trust the information handed out there.

Ebay is now more than ever - BUYER BEWARE, because the seller doesn't always know what they are talikng about. There are very few sellers that I would buy from on the VCA. I'll stick to the old-timers who know and truely love vintage.