Designer Pets: Lucile and Mahmud

I just read this great story on Randy Bryan Bigham’s facebook page and am reposting it in his words:


Here’s LDG with her heroic pup in 1916 soon after their reunion. He looks a little tired!

A DOG HERO STORY: The early 1900s designer Lucile (Lady Duff Gordon) had a Chow named Mahmud who was a WWI veteran. She left him with her chauffeur in 1914 when she gave over her Paris dress salon to the Red Cross. The chauffeur became an ambulance driver and Mahmud a depot mascot, sitting beside him and other drivers on their missions to the war zone to bring back wounded soldiers. On one trip the following year, the ambulance was fired on by the Germans and the driver was injured but Mahmud, also injured, limped all the way back, over many miles, to Paris to get help. He later rejoined his mistress in New York and accompanied her on a vaudeville fashion show tour, raising funds for the Secours Franco-American Pour la France Devastee which aided refugees.


Mahmud before the war, hanging out with one of Lucile’s beautiful models for a fashion spread in Les Modes magazine

Mahmud so missed his buddy, the chauffeur, who was disabled from the accident, (that) when Lucile came back to Paris after the war, she hired the man as a dog walker, and they all were together until he passed away in her shop… at the ripe old age of 12 in 1922, the news rated a front page obituary in the London Daily Telegraph!

Thanks Randy for the great story!

Canadian Fashion Connection – Lucile

Lucy and Elinor while in Canada, c. 1870

‘Lucile’ was the label for Lady Duff Gordon, the daughter of Douglas Sutherland, a Scottish civil engineer father, and Elinor Saunders, her Canadian born mother. Born Lucy Christiana Sutherland in London, England on June 13, 1863, her sister Elinor Glyn was born in Saint Helier, Jersey, Channel Islands the following year. When their father died two months after Elinor’s birth the family returned to their mother’s parental home in Guelph, Ontario.

While in Guelph, the two girls were schooled by their grandmother, who had been raised in an aristocratic family. The training was useful for Lucy and Elinor’s entrée into society after their mother remarried in 1871 and the family returned to Jersey in 1872.


Childhood home of Lucy and Elinor, when they were in Canada 1865 – 1872

In 1884, Lucy married James Stuart Wallace with whom she had a daughter, Esme. The couple divorced in 1890 and Lucy began to work as a dress designer from home. By 1894 she had opened Maison Lucile in Old Burlington St, in the West End of London. In 1896, a larger shop was opened at 17 Hanover Square, and by 1900, she was operating as Lucile Ltd at 23 Hanover Square.

Her clientèle began to include some aristocrats after Lucy married Sir Cosmo Duff Gordon, a Scottish landowner, in 1900. However, Lady Lucy was never invited to attend court, as her title should have prompted because, despite her marriage, she was still seen as a dressmaker by society, as well as a divorcee. In 1907 Lucile costumed The Merry Widow, the most popular and influential London play of its time, and soon stars of stage and screen, including Irene Castle and Mary Pickford, began to custom her salon.

Typical floaty-drapey ethereal fashion by Lucille, c. 1913

Although a variety of clothes were available at Lucile’s, it was the ultra-feminine, lingerie-style tea gowns and evening dresses in draped, diaphanous fabrics that were her most most popular creations. She showed her fashions at catwalk-like shows – invitation-only fashion parades of live models, with music.

In 1912 Sir Cosmo and Lady Duff Gordon were survivors of the sinking of the RMS Titanic. They were pulled from a lifeboat that was less than half full, leading to speculations of bribery, but sometimes any publicity is good, because Lucile’s business did not suffer. However, an application was made for compensation from the White Star Line for the loss of her collection as Lucy had been travelling on business from her Paris branch, opened in 1911, to her New York branch, opened in 1910.

Page from her spring 1917 catalogue sold through Sears Roebuck, Chicago

During the height of her popularity (1910-1917) Lady Duff Gordon wrote a fashion page for the Hearst newspaper syndicate as well as columns for Harper’s Bazaar and Good Housekeeping magazines. She took on commercial endorsements of various lines of clothing and cosmetics and, after opening a third branch of her business in Chicago in 1915, she became the first designer to enter into a licensing venture with a line of affordable clothes for the Chicago mail-order giant Sears, Roebuck & Co. for two seasons in 1916 and 1917.

Lady Duff Gordon, c. 1917

Lady Duff Gordon’s design empire began to disintegrate in 1917. She was the well-publicized loser in a precedent-setting 1917 contract law case regarding exclusive endorsements of product lines. A later well-publicized case of customs avoidance was a further blow to her reputation and finances. She was also a well known thief of other designer’s work – putting her own name on sketches offered by freelance designers and not paying for their work. On top of all this, the post-war recession of 1919 nearly bankrupted her business but the company survived through restructuring. However, her feminine frou-frou fashions were not in keeping with changing tastes and by 1922 Lucile had ceased designing for the company. The company continued on for a few years with less success, whilst Lady Duff Gordon continued working from home designing for individual clients.

Lucy regained some fame when she wrote her best-selling autobiography Discretions and Indiscretions in 1932. She died from complications of pneumonia while suffering from breast cancer in a London nursing home in 1935 at the age of 71.

Take a quiz – Win a prize! —— And the winner is Mary-Jane Enros!

(Originally blogged January 15, 2010)

Congratulations to all who sent in their answers to the fashion designer quiz. All questions were answered correctly but not by one person! There was a three-way tie for first place with a score of 10 out of 12 by Vintage Visage, Linn Alber, and Mary-Jane Enros but the first person to submit their answers was Mary-Jane Enros of Poppysvintageclothing – CONGRATULATIONS!

1 – This designer survived the sinking of the Titanic

Lady Duff Gordon, who worked under the name Lucile, opened her dressmaking firm in London in 1891 but only became well known after she married Sir Cosmos Duff Gordon in 1900. In 1909 a branch of Lucile was opened in New York and another branch opened in Paris in 1911 – she was on her way from Paris to New York when she boarded the Titanic in April 1912. The lifeboat she and her husband were in had left the Titanic nearly empty and did not go back for survivors, leaving the Duff-Gordons open to speculation of paying off the boatmen. Her reputation never fully recovered and by 1918 her romantic dress styles were less appealing to modern woman and her London business closed. The New York and Paris shops closed with the onset of the Depression in about 1930. Lady Gordon died in 1935.

2 – This designer’s first job was designing skiwear for White Stag in 1948

Emilio Pucci was a leading figure in Italian fashion of the 1950s and 1960s, but his designing career began when he was commissioned by the American company White Stag to design skiwear after Pucci was photographed for Harper’s Bazaar in 1948, wearing a ski suit of his own design. In 1950 he opened his own couture house in Florence and gained a reputation for colourful casual clothing. By the mid 1960s his clothing was seen everywhere including as stewardess uniforms for Braniff airlines. At the height of his fame as a designer he served as a Member of Parliament for Florence between 1964 and 1973.

3 – This designer was known for wearing dark glasses decades before Karl Lagerfeld or Anna Wintour

Admittedly this was a bit of a trick question, because I didn’t specify it was a FASHION designer… Edith Head, the costume designer, wore dark blue lensed glasses as a way to see how costumes would look in a black and white film. The glasses became her trademark and although she was rarely photographed with out her blue glasses, she commonly wore clear glasses when out of public view.

4 – This shoe designer trained for the Italian track and field team for the 1960 Olympics

Most people probably don’t know his name but they will know his shoes… Armando Pollini was an athlete before he settled down to shoe design. His most famous was a clog mule with a leather strap that sold millions of pairs in the late 1970s under the brand name of Candies.

5 – This designer redesigned the Girl Scout uniform in 1948

Born Main Rousseau Bocher, he served in WWI and stayed on in Europe after the war, eventually becoming the fashion editor for French Vogue. He founded his own atelier in Paris in 1930 and quickly became a very successful couturier as well as the first American admitted to the couture syndicate. He fled Paris in 1940 and went to New York where he was quickly embraced as a prodigal American designer. In 1948 he was commissioned to redesign the Girl Scout uniform. Before opening his atelier in Paris, his name was properly prounounced as Main ‘Bocker’ or ‘Bosher’. However in Paris he took on the French pronunciation of his name – ‘Mahnboshay’.

6 – This designer survived the explosion of the Hindenburg

Philip Mangone was the son of an immigrant Italian tailor. He learned his craft from his father before working at numerous different firms eventually opening his own business in 1916. He became famous for his tailored wool coats and suits that were often made of European wools. After one of his European fabric buying trips in 1937 he headed home, with a severe cold, aboard the Zeppelin Hindenburg. He was badly burned in the crash and spent most of the next year recovering in hospital. Upon his release the first thing he did was to board a flight to Chicago to prove to himself he wasn’t afraid to fly.

7 – This designer was engaged to Grace Kelly before she married Prince Ranier of Monaco

Oleg Cassini was working in Hollywood as a costume designer when he met and married the actress Gene Tierney. However, the marriage suffered, especially after Gene’s daughter was born retarded – caused by Gene having been exposed to measles while pregnant. The story became the inspiration for Agatha Christie’s novel ‘And the Mirror Cracked’. After the couple divorced in 1952 Oleg Cassini took up with Grace Kelly and had proposed to her on several occasions before finally being rebuffed for Prince Rainier of Monaco.

8 – This shoe designer’s ancestor is Sun Yat Sen, the first president of the Republic of China in 1912

Beatrix Ong is fairly new on the scene of shoe design. She worked at Jimmy Choo under Tamara Mellon before striking out on her own. Beatrix can trace her ancestry back to a great uncle who was Sun Yat Sen.

9 – This designer survived the atomic blast at Hiroshima

As a seven year old, Issey Miyake lived on the outskirts of Hiroshima. To this day he says he can remember the bright light and black cloud and the desperation of the people running about after the explosion. The only good to have come from it for him was a passion to create rather than destroy.

10 – This designer consulted a psychic before opening his Parisian atelier to make sure the timing was right

Isaac Mizrahi, Paul Poiret, Coco Chanel – many designers used psychics, fortune tellers, mediums, and ouiji boards to foresee the future and their success. However, Christian Dior was probably the most avid follower of psychic visions. At a young age he was told he would become very important for women, and before agreeing to open his own atelier he sought the advice of a psychic to make sure the timing was right. In matters of business, the psychics were absolutely right in all the advice they gave Dior.

11 – This designer dated a German officer who had worked as a spy in Paris before World War II

During World War II, at the age of 56, Coco Chanel took up residence at the Paris Ritz hotel, along with Hans Gunther von Dinklage, a German officer 13 years her junior, who had been living in Paris since the 1930s, working as a spy.

12 – This designer changed her last name to be the same as the richest person in America

The story goes that Viennese born Henrietta Kanengeiser emigrated to the United States at the age of eleven and trained as a milliner. Before opening her first hat shop in 1909 she realized her last name would not pull in wealthy clients so Henriette or ‘Hattie’ called her shop ‘Carnegie – Ladies Hatter’, after the richest man in America at the time, Andrew Carnegie. By 1914 she was known simply as Hattie Carnegie.