Fashion Flashback: Lady Christina Duff-Gordon

In this centennial year of sinking of the Titanic, Fashion Reverie looks back at one of the survivors of the Titanic, Lady Lucy Christina Duff-Gordon, who was a leading fashion designer of the late 19th and early 20th centuries and is credited for training the first fashion models, as well as staging the first runway or “catwalk” style shows. Professionally known as Lucile, Lady Duff-Gordon, was the first English designer to achieve international success with couture boutiques in London, Paris, NYC, and Chicago. Her clientele included royalty, society wives, nobility, and theatrical stars, including Billie Burke, Irene Castle, and Mary Pickford.

Her company Lucile, Ltd was most famous for designing lingerie, tea gowns, and evening wear. Her design aesthetic was characterized by luxurious draped soft fabric in pastel palettes, often embellished with silk flowers.

A passenger on the RMS Titanic with her husband, Sir Cosmo Duff Gordon, Lady Duff-Gordon was rumored to have told her secretary as they watched from Lifeboat 1 as the Titanic sank, “There is your beautiful nightdress gone.” Such comments fueled charges of negligence as the Duff Gordons were scandalized in the press and tried in court for having paid crewmen not to return to the Titanic for passengers so that Lifeboat 1 would not become overcrowded. Though charges were dropped innuendo and public shame continued until the Duff Gordon’s deaths.

In the past decade, international museum exhibitions, the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s “Cobism and Fashion” (1999), the Museum of the City of New York’s “Fashion on Stage” (1999) and the Victoria and Albert Museum’s “Black in Fashion” (2000), have featured Lady Duff-Gordon’s garments.

Lady Christina Duff-Gordon

Lady Lucy Christiana Duff-Gordon died in 1935 of breast cancer.

—Staff

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