• “Lacy and dainty details give a halo of subtle suggestions of sex which should surround every woman who wishes to charm.”
    Lady Duff Gordon (Lucile)
  • “The sweet freshness of nighties should always make a man want to know the wearer a little better.”
    Lady Duff Gordon (Lucile)
  • “A girl should always dress with lots of little bows and ribbons so a man will want to undo them one by one.”
    Lady Duff Gordon (Lucile)
  • Lucile : Her Life by Design
  • Lucile : Her Life by Design
  • Lucile : Her Life by Design
  • Lucile : Her Life by Design
  • Lucile : Her Life by Design
  • Lucile : Her Life by Design
  • Lucile : Her Life by Design
  • Lucile : Her Life by Design
  • Lucile : Her Life by Design
  • Lucile : Her Life by Design
  • Lucile : Her Life by Design
  • Lucile : Her Life by Design

Lady Duff Gordon (Lucile), 1863-1935

One of the early 20th century’s most prolific and celebrated designers, the London-based "Lucile" –– in private life Lady Duff Gordon –– was a key transitional figure in the evolution of fashion, exemplifying luxe and liberation at the intersection of haute couture, merchandising, media and the performing arts. The theatre-inspired mannequin processionals she launched anticipated the catwalk shows and supermodels of today. Her slit skirts, low necklines and peek-a-boo lingerie turned sexy into chic. And the unprecedented publicity her collections and branding ventures generated laid the groundwork for present-day marketing strategies. 

Seventy-five years after her death, in gallery auctions and museum exhibitions, in magazines and books, the Lucile aesthetic is being rediscovered, achieving newfound appreciation among curators, collectors, historians and other connoisseurs of costume and theatre.

Lucile –– Her Life by Design, the first full-scale treatment of the couturiere’s career, heralds her renaissance with an insightful, intimate study of her work and its impact on style and social change. Based on twenty years of archival research and exclusive interviews with Lucile’s family, clients and other associates, this book places in fascinating perspective the legend behind the label.

Randy Bryan Bigham, 44, is an award-winning journalist, author and historian specializing in early 20th century theatre, film and couture. Randy, who studied at New York's Fashion Institute of Technology, has contributed to national and international publications, including People, Women's Wear Daily, The Daily Mail, The Washington Post, The Lady and BBC History.

He is also a visual consultant, supplying historical images from his extensive private collection to publishing, curatorial, film and other media projects. His photographs and research have appeared in over a dozen books, including Century Girl by Lauren Redniss and Lucile Ltd by Amy de la Haye and Valerie Mendes. Randy has served as an advisor to museum exhibitions such as the National Portrait Gallery’s “High Society” and the Museum of London’s “The London Look,” as well as lectured at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. In addition, he has provided consultation and commentary for television documentaries produced by the BBC, the National Geographic Channel and ITV. Recently he supplied research on Lucile, as well as images of her designs, for the Sundance Channel's Love, Lust & Lingerie documentary, which aired in February 2012.

Randy’s first book, Finding Dorothy, a biography of silent screen star Dorothy Gibson, was released in 2005, proceeds benefiting the Fort Lee Film Commission. It has since been re-released and is available via Lulu.com. He also wrote the biographical note to 2008’s deluxe reissue of the pioneering 1920s travelogue, Angkor the Magnificent, by Helen Churchill Candee. A lifelong Texan, Randy has worked for the Dallas Morning News, the Dallas Voice and other daily and weekly newspapers across the state, serving as columnist, lifestyles editor and managing editor. Currently, Randy is an advisor to the Titanic Museum at Branson, a researcher for Columbia University’s Women Film Pioneers Project and an editor for NOW Magazines, a chain of ten monthly, community-interest publications in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.  


Randy Bryan Bigham can be reached using the contact form.

LUCILE - HER LIFE BY DESIGN : Sex, Style and the Fusion of Theatre and Couture
By Randy Bryan Bigham
In Association with the FIDM Museum, Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising, Los Angeles

8.5x11 Full Color Hardback/Casewrap
322 pages/370 illustrations
$71.22

First published 2012 by MacEvie Press Group and
Lulu Press Inc / Lulu Enterprises
Copyright © 2010-2014 / Updated Edition © 2014 by Randy Bryan Bigham
ISBN-10: 0-615-60998-8
ISBN-13: 978-0-615-60998-0

Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.

Order your copy at www.LULU.com

Lucile - Her Life by Design by Randy Bryan Bigham
is an independently produced, non-profit collaboration with
the FIDM Museum, Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising, Los Angeles

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 1

SHEER SEDUCTION

Remembered for her romantic style as much for her influence on the couture industry –– especially in rooting the paradigm of designer within the realm of celebrity –– Lucy Duff Gordon was a pioneer in restoring grace, comfort and a heightened sense of sexuality to women's dress as the Victorian era drew to a close. By discarding tightly-laced corsets and boned bodices, introducing provocatively sheer lingerie, and carrying her ideas of freedom and fantasy into outerwear, she changed fashion. More than that, she changed the way women viewed themselves and felt about their bodies. As United Press fashion editor Mary Knight remembered, Lucy designed "from the skin out."

"In those days virtue was too often expressed by dowdiness," the couturiere admitted in her memoir, Discretions and Indiscretions, "and I had no use for the dull, stiff, boned-bodice brigade. I loosed upon a startled London, a London of flannel underclothes, woolen stockings, and voluminous petticoats, a cascade of chiffons, of draperies as lovely as those of ancient Greece." Contemporaries, too, gave Lucy credit for refining lingerie. "I really think she did a great deal to revolutionize dress," declared hostess Lady Angela Forbes of the designer’s lacy, transparent touch.  Constance Peel, women’s page editor for the London Daily Mail in the early 1900s, concurred that "diaphanous garments were introduced to society by Madame Lucile," replacing conventional "underclothes of white cambric" with see-through lace, net and chiffon.  "The night has a thousand eyes," hinted the Illustrated Review. "Hence the passing of the gray flannel nightie beloved of our grandmothers, and its replacement by delightful creations by Lucile." For her, the nightclothes and other items of lingerie she made were idealized, fantasized expressions of female intimacy. "Boudoir gowns, as I design them," she insisted, "are glimpses into a woman’s soul." Her promotion of elegant undress was frank, even radical. In her earliest advertisements "unmentionables" were not only mentioned but cited as a Lucile Ltd specialty. And at a time when sketched illustrations of women’s undergarments were the standard format in fashion magazines, Lucy released photographs to the press of voluptuous young models in her scantiest lingerie designs.

Squeamish dowagers spread the rumour that she was propagating a "cult of immoral dressing" but the talk withered away as her frothy, pastel undies became the rage of London, New York and eventually Paris.  Old-guard "female Tories" might be shocked but London’s younger social leaders took to Lucy’s racy lingerie like fashionable ducks to water.  One enthusiast was Edward VII’s mistress Frances, Countess of Warwick –– His Majesty’s "Darling Daisy" –– who ordered her Lucile negligees in black satin and lace to coordinate with the black silk sheets and curtains of her bedroom at Warwick Castle. Margot Asquith, wife of the Liberal Prime Minister, preferred camisoles and knickers in violet satin; the Marchoiness of Willingdon opted for violet silk petticoats and matching underdrawers; and Lucy’s sister, romance novelist Elinor Glyn, chose pale pink peignoirs and quilted slippers. Some of the prettiest lingerie Lucy made was in 1906 for the trousseau of the King’s niece, Princess Ena of Battenberg, bride of Alfonso of Spain. The negligees, robes, camisoles, knickers, bed-jackets and nightcaps for the new Queen of Spain were all made in "the most exquisite white satin trimmed with tiny point-venise lace appliques caught here and there with dainty bunches of orange blossoms."

The naughty under-gear that scandalized Victorians was a must-have for Edwardian belles and 1920s coquettes. By then Lucy’s dresses were so sheer customers were compelled to buy lingerie to go with them. These were usually made in the teasing flesh tones for which she was noted. Comedienne Ina Claire, interviewed by Theatre Magazine about her Lucile wardrobe for the 1915 Ziegfeld Follies, said she never wore "anything but the palest pink lingerie." Ballroom hoofer turned screen siren Mae Murray, dressing at Lucy’s New York branch about the same time, bought underwear to match each of her gowns, even down to a pair of "red panties." Shopping one day with fellow star Olive Thomas, the latter gasped when she saw Mae’s Lucile undies. "Cobwebs!" she exclaimed. "They’re positively cobwebs!"