The Titanic survivor who invented the catwalk show

Controversial is memorable. You can’t forget the moment that sparked your utter contempt or euphoria; the person that made you admire and condemn her in the same time or the trend that you kinda love-hate even today (furry heels, anyone?)

Such a controversy surrounded Lady Duff-Gordon at the end of the 19th century. She was a British aristocrat who loved life more than anything else… even more than the life of others.

The only reason she survived Titanic’s death sentence was because she and Sir Cosmo Duff-Gordon (yes, Cosmo, as in Cosmo Kramer J)), her second husband, bribed a lifeboat crew! As you can imagine, many blamed her for doing such an immoral and selfish thing. It didn’t help that she went through a divorce in her twenties, an affair that left her alone with a child.

But before the 1912 tragedy sank in, Lady Duff-Gordon had made a name for herself as a designer who understood the female psyche and catered to her whims.  While she preferred working with American women, “dollar princesses” as she called them, her Maison Lucile salons* were brimming with wealthy customers**. See, Lady Gordon was a woman who knew how to sell – a bit of mystery, a lot of compliments and the guarantee that her clothes enticed the opposite sex.

Lady Duff Gordon

Her marketing efforts were remarkably intuitive and avant-garde for those times. She held the first ever catwalk show before Victoria’s Secret became the most watched and entertaining of its kind. Hosted in Hanover Square, it was a chance to present ladies with her latest creations, usually part of the personality range.

“I dress the soul rather than the merely physical shell”

What was that all about? Before horoscopes and quizzes told us what clothes suited our personality, Lady Gordon did that for her clients. She sold an array of head to toe outfits according to physique and psyche.  In her atelier, you could find gowns made of fluid drapery in peach, nude and turquoise, as well as romantic lingerie in lace, trimmed with marabou feathers and rosebuds. Her iconic white lace afternoon dresses were accessorized with metallic silk bands.

Nevertheless, her artistic side didn’t interfere with her sense of business. She knew how to trade in high society, thus creating a model for later empires such as Chanel and Dior. Now, her legacy lives on through her niece, who built the lingerie brand Lucile & Co.

 

*Lady Duff-Gordon had opened boutiques in London, New York, Paris and Chicago

** Queen Mary, Duchess of Warwick , The Queen of Spain, Mata Hari were some of her A-list customers.

photo source: lucileandco.com

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