Duff Gordon, Lucy (1862–1935)

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Duff Gordon, Lucy (1862–1935)

English-born fashion and theatrical costume designer whose clothes were highly popular in London high society during the period from 1890 through World War I. Born Lucille Sutherland in London, England, in 1862; died of cancer in a nursing home in Putney, England, in April 1935; eldest of two daughters of Douglas Sutherland (an engineer) and Lucy (Saunders) Sutherland; sister of writer Elinor Glyn (1864–1943); educated at a Canadian grade school and by governesses; married James Wallace (a wine merchant), on September 15, 1884 (divorced 1888); married Sir Cosmo Duff Gordon, May 24, 1900 (d. 1931); children: (first marriage) daughter Esme (who married Anthony Giffard, viscount Tiverton).

Lucy Duff Gordon gained fame by designing "personality" dresses for wealthy women in London during the 1890s; as a result, she opened The Maison Lucille in London in 1898, and branches, known as Lucille Ltd., were established in Paris, New York, and Chicago, employing such designers as Robert Kalloch, Shirley Barker , Howard Greer, and Gilbert Clark. Among Duff Gordon's customers was the duchess of York, later Queen Mary of Teck . Duff Gordon began a career as a stage designer with costumes for the London production ofThe Merry Widow in 1907. One of her designs for the operetta would be copied and worn by actress Audrey Hepburn in the motion-picture version of My Fair Lady.

Along with her husband Sir Cosmo Duff Gordon, Lucy survived the Titanic disaster in 1912 but barely survived its aftermath. As she watched the ship slowly sink beneath the frigid waters, she had turned to her secretary aboard the half-filled lifeboat No. 1 and observed, "There is your beautiful nightdress gone." Tabloids reported this and also accused the Duff Gordons of paying mariners to row away from the scene. In May 1912, a British inquest cleared them of all charges; in actuality, Cosmo had given the mariners money to replace their lost belongings, but the damage to their reputation had been done.

Lucy began her career as a fashion journalist in 1915 and designing costumes for the Ziegfeld Follies in 1916. In 1917, Duff Gordon opened a mail-order dress business that was advertised in the Sears Roebuck catalog. Her film design credits include The Misleading Lady: The Strange Case of Mary Page (1916), Virtuous Wives (1920), Way Down East (1921), and Heedless Moths. Lady Lucy Duff Gordon is often confused with Lady Lucie Duff-Gordon (1821–1869).

Niles Holt , Normal, Illinois