19 November 2012

the Lucile EFFECT

Dior , photograph by Ellen von Unwerth

Lucile has been celebrated- there are books about her- her autobiography- her sister's autobiography and biographies about the pair. That both were women of passion and -of their era is obvious-perhaps less so-is her enduring influence on fashion and decoration-and their intersection.

Lucile-above & sister Elinor below

The Sutherland  sisters became known as the "IT" girls-Lucile-Lady Duff Gordon and her author sister Elinor Glyn. Elsie de Wolfe (below) an indisputable IT Girl-don't-ya-know? It's no wonder they were kindred spirits in their taste and style.

They are all wearing Lucile.

Elsie de Wolfe interior, photograph by Derry Moore

Elsie and Lucile were fast friends. Influencing each other in all things. Elsie wore Lucile. Lucile decorated her salon and Elsie took note. Lucile refused to work in anything remotely resembling a practical  Fitting Room or Work Room-No, it was the Ball Room she preferred- and that set her apart in the extreme from other fashion houses. Nothing at Maison Lucile smelled of Trade.

Strictly eighteenth century in design, Louis XV chairs were covered in grey silk, pale grey walls were finessed with white frothy trim work and grey silk taffeta curtains were fashioned with silks roses by the hundreds in clusters at the windows. 
I can just see it. Lucile's radical presentation ran- with the rustle of tissue thin silk-away from Victorian decoration. This look was It-and It spilled over to her Lucile's home and to Elinor's as well. While Elinor indulged in a heavy hand, the Exotic and Romantic-her taste stemmed directly from sister Lucile's fashions and  fashion house. No doubt Elsie was duly impressed and took her cues from Lucile's decoration and style and ran away with IT. The rest is Elsie History.

from Elsie's The House in Good Taste

& Elsie's predecessors-

like Veere Grenney

& the ever elegant Suzanne Rheinstein-

Romance is the glamour which turns the dust of everyday life into a golden haze.-Elinor Glyn

Lady Duff Gordon-LUCILE
 Sketch for a Portrait by Philip de Laszlo

Lucile began her fashion career as Artist. This she would insist upon her entire life. She was artist-and the first gowns she designed -she called Picture Frocks. "I was an artist. Nothing more... It is a lesser form of art, I know, but to me it meant a great deal, my life's work and I was tremendously in earnest over every dress I created."

portrait of Lillie by Herbert Gustave Schmalz

Lillie Langtry- from the Isle of Jersey, as were the sisters-was model absolute to them & "Jersey Lil" was the first name to wear Lucile. Others followed-Margot Asquith, Violet, Duchess of Rutland, Lady Desborough- known as The Souls-all came to see Madame Lucile.

Lucile credits herself with allowing a Lady to be a sensual creature.
'I showed the world that a woman's leg can be a thing of beauty, instead of a "limb",which was only spoken of in the privacy of the fitting room.'

and while Lucile showed  a little leg, sister Elinor was putting pen to paper to write about women who dared to show more in her novel Three Weeks (that's another story, and a glorious one too).


It was a Captain Molyeneux that shared Lucile's taste and sense of what women wanted to wear. He was one of Lucile's many devoted coterie of men friends.While Lucile was gallivanting on the continent and the states-Molyeneux was creating designs for Lucile-with the look of Lucile but adding his own aesthetic to the final design. His skills as designer moved Lucile's Belle Epoque designs into modernity. He was extremely loyal as friend and employee but Lucile felt threatened by his successes. Molyeneux moved on-and in truth Lucile was not moving along with the times-she simply didn't want to.

Lucile (l) & Molyeneux (r).

Lucile moved Lingerie in fashion to new heights-once relegated to the boudoir and for few eyes only- Lingerie Looks were one of Lucile's signatures. Diaphanous drapery wafted through Salons and waltzed through ballrooms.

Lucile's love for the look never wavered and has been embraced by innumerable designers like Christian Lacroix

& Riccardo Tisci at Givenchy

Today Lucile's labelled has been revived by Camilla Blois her great, great, grand-daughter

Another lily-this time Lily Elsie- wore Lucile in the stage success The Merry Widow.

“…The triumph of the Merry Widow was also a personal triumph for me, for of all the plays I dressed, and there were many, it was my favourite. ‘The Merry Widow Hat,’ which I designed for Lily Elsie, brought in a fashion which carried the name of “Lucile,” its creator, all of Europe and the States. Every woman who wanted to be in the swim had to have a ‘Merry Widow Hat’, and we made thousands of pounds through the craze, which lasted longer than most fashion crazes, for the charm of the play kept it alive.”

“From that day I designed all her [Elsie’s] clothes both for the stage and in private life and some of my most successful models were created for her, for once she had ‘found herself’ she wore them so charmingly that every woman who saw them wanted to have them copied…”- Lucy Duff-Gordon

Many years later Cecil Beaton would borrow heavily from Lucile's creations for My Fair Lady.

The House Models-another first in fashion from Lucile- were handpicked and groomed to be the face of Lucile.
Lucile was the first to have fashion shows with mood and theme &

hair by Julien, photograph by Patrick Demarchelier in Vogue

(very much as I imagine Lucile's models)


at Maison Lucile Lucile's models were schooled and their names changed to give them the sisters' IT

portrait of Saoirse Ronan by photographer Steven Meisel for Vogue

In the New York press Lucile's models were "crusaders of the Dream Dress given a mission of mercy, the great mission of spreading among New York's Four Hundred the cult of the dream dress, the wondrous product of the genius of Lady Duff Gordon."

Her apex as label Lucile came in 1909 as those Edwardians thought their languid lives would always be so. With royal onlookers-Queen Marie of Romania a favorite Lucillian- & the Queen of Spain, Lucile staged The Seven Ages of Woman with scenes from "The Hostess" having layer upon layer of Lucile dramatics-borrowed heavily from sister Elinor's character "the Lady" in Three Weeks.

Lucile's The Seven Ages of Woman
Scene A: The Desire of the Eyes:Persuasive Delight: The Whisper of early Green: Visible Harmony: A Frenzied Hour: A Garden of Sleep: Salut d'Amour: Unorthodox: An Interval: Afterwards: Contentment
(a that was just scene A)

With frocks on -we leave sister Elinor to close curtain:

She was seated on the old Venetian chair... the most radiant vision he had yet seen. Her garment was pale green gauze...clasped with pearls...the whole place had been converted into a bower of roses. A great couch of deepest red ones was at one side, fixed in such masses as to be quite resisting and firm... from the roof chains of roses hung...above the screen of lilac buses in full bloom, the moon in all her glory mingled with the rose-shaded lamps and cast a glamour and unreality over the whole. (from Three Weeks)

Lucile's power to woo the women of her era was lost to a war looming just out of her veiled vision of beauty- it was a war where losses gave way to resignation and Lucile's magic never rekindled though her seductive feminine charm remains.



  1. Replies
    1. I've been adding to this post for awhile. Elinor Glyn is fascinating to me.

  2. Amazing post -how had I never heard of her? Thanks so much for sharing.

  3. Stefan, many thanks-Lucile went unknown til the V&A _I believe did her up properly The book IT Girls-a dual bio is a great place to start and I just say this- it is due in 2013. She survived as did her husband-and for that they paid the price in the states and UK at the time. http://www.vogue.com/vogue-daily/article/a-scandal-survives-the-story-of-fashion-designer-and-titanic-passenger-lucile/#1

  4. My favorite aspect of the Lucile story is her connections to Elsie. That I know everyone enjoys. They were neighbors at Versailles- She live at the Pavillon Mars.

  5. Wonderful...glad Elsie Trianon is shown...is that Anne Morgan's dressing room?

    1. Not sure about that but it is from the House in Good Taste.

  6. Little Augury, This is a wonderful post spotlighting Lucile, her art and fashion forward-thinking and the resounding effect of her influence. I love both the visual and word imagery you have presented here - the antique photographs, combined with photography of modern fashion and interior design... along with her sister Elinor Glyn's moonlit rose-festooned room of Three Weeks.

    In its entirety, your Lucile Effect post inspires me to paint and dream.

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