An “It Girl” of the Belle Epoque era with striking flame coloured hair, she was known for her feisty personality and was often the talk of much controversy. “Her naughtiness was part of her allure,” which made her popular among society ladies such as Lily Lantry and Gloria Vanderbilt – some of the women who made up her exclusive clientele.
One of the first designers to dress actresses on and off stage – her costumes for theatre productions created fashion crazes across Europe and America, and her off-stage designs turned stars such as Lily Elsie, Gertie Millar, Margot Asquith and Irene Castles into style icons. She had a following of glamourous, powerful women queuing to have a bespoke “personality dress” created for them. These dresses became a signature of Lucile, flowing chiffons, layers of lace and nude tones, and dripped with silk ribbons or flowers. Lady Duff Gordon spent hours, even days with the women lucky enough to wear a personality dress, each one individual to the wearer, a true reflection of their soul. She captured the essence of their character and transformed it into a stunning, sumptuous gown.
Royalty flocked to be dressed by Lucile, including the Countess of Dudley, Queen of Spain, Queen of Romania and Queen Mary – all enchanted by Lucile’s romantic and seductive style. She was the first to design a completely sheer negligee, adorning each piece with handmade rosebuds and velvet bows. She loved and appreciated the female form and understood how to drape fabric to create gorgeously feminine silhouettes, freeing women of restrictive corsets and underskirts – her designs were revolutionary and scandalous.
For Lady Duff Gordon, her night gowns and lingerie reflected female intimacy and allowed a “glimpse into a woman’s soul.” The Queen of Spain famously owned some of Lady Duff Gordon’s most beautifully created pieces, the Duchess of Warwick requested black silk negligee’s to match her boudoir drapes and an exclusive ‘Lucile Trousseau’ was designed for Queen Victoria’s granddaughter, Princess Margaret ‘Daisy’ of Connaught.
Lady Duff Gordon’s vision and creativity was undeniable, along with Poiret and Worth she was among the first to hold “mannequin parades.” They were exclusive, invite-only events. Guests were greeted by quintessentially British afternoon tea and cakes while models sashayed elegantly to string quartets. These soirees lead the way for the modern fashion show and were the height of sophistication at the time. Her famous “Rose Rooms,” found in every Lucile salon were exclusive boutiques where women would spend hours choosing their sensuous undergarments and smelling the exotic perfumes.
The House of Lucile was one of the first global fashion brands, with boutiques in Paris, New York, Chicago and the flagship “Masion Lucile” in Hanover Square, London. But Lady Duff Gordon’s ventures didn’t stop at fashion; she designed interiors for limousines and town cars for the Chalmers Motor Company, which would later become the Chrysler Corporation. She was a talented writer, with a wealth of fashion knowledge, sharing her opinions in world renowned magazines such as Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue and Hearst Magazine.
Always one to portray her life through literature, she wrote her auto-biography “Discretions and Indiscretions,” in 1932. Re-released this year, the book recounts her amazing journey, building her fashion empire and becoming an international renowned couturier.