Tag Archives: Lucile

The Picture Actress and Her Gowns: 1916

Dressmaker Is the Skeleton in The Picture Actress’ Closet

Brand-new Gowns Are Demanded For Almost Every New Scene in Photoplays.


Film Patrons Also Insist on Creations of Famous Modistes, and Players Provide Them.

“Gowns! Gowns!”

“And then some more gowns!”

This is the reason given by a motion picture star who is well known in Washington, why young girls should take something strong and positive when the symptoms of a desire to become a motion picture actress first appear.

The business of dressing a motion picture play is more serious than the play itself, declared this actress. She has had considerable experience on the stage, and has become very well known in motion pictures. As she has been a great stickler for proper costuming in her picture work, she desires that she shall not be named—but she is one of the real stars of the film.

“The average stock actress has a lot more trouble with her costumes than she has with her lines. And she thinks her troubles are the worst,” declared this actress. “But the stock leading lady has a comparatively easy time when compared with the picture player.

Cannot Wear Gowns Twice.

“Did you ever see your favorite staress in the same gown twice?”

“You never did. And, furthermore, you never will. She wouldn’t scintillate long if she wore the same gown twice. The stock actress when she gets tired of buying new gowns can go to a different town and wear her old dresses all over again, with a little fixing over.

“But the motion picture actress cannot do that. Her public follows her from place to place. I have worked for five motion picture companies—but my public has been the same. I’m glad to say my public has grown a lot in numbers since I started motion picture work. But the point I want to make is that I can’t change my audience like the stock actors. The same people go to see my pictures.
“And, furthermore, none of my stock wardrobe—the gowns I wore in stock company productions—will go in pictures because the public has seen me in all those gowns! The result is that every time I put on a picture I have to put on several gowns.

“And believe me, the public is becoming rather captious as to the number of gowns one must wear in the various scenes of a picture. We must appear in a different gown for every day the picture is supposed to cover.

New Dress for Each Day.

For instance, if I am to appear in scenes covering several days I must have a new gown for each of those days. It wouldn’t be right for me to appear in the same gown two days in succession.

“It seems absurd, of course, in parts where the character is a girl in moderate circumstances. I know that before I went on the stage, I considered myself lucky to have half a dozen gowns—one of which would be a regular-honest-to-goodness stylish affair. And when I went out I wore that stylish gown time after time. I couldn’t do it with the same sort of a character, in the same situation in life. In motion pictures though, I must have a new gown for every day the action covers.

“And the quality of the gowns must be right. You hear a lot about ‘Lucile’ and ‘Redfern’ creations on the screen, and you think the labels are sewed on by press agents instead of the people who own the copyrights to them. But that is not true.

Public Demands the Best.

“The public demands ‘Lucile’ and ‘Redfern’ and all the rest of them. And we must furnish them. It’s a horrid shame, too. I actually spend more time with a dress maker than I do with the play I am appearing in.

“I would ask a young girl anxious to go into pictures if she can stand quietly day after day and permit herself to be draped and stitched and pinned into something she must pay for, but will never have an opportunity to wear—nine cases out of ten—because she can’t afford to go where the gown belongs? That is totally aside from the business of trying to figure out something new.

“That is one of the real tests. One of the things I want to take a vacation from is gowns. Honestly, I almost cry when I think of a new play. It means new gowns—more gowns—and I’ve got so many already that I can’t do a thing with!”

The Washington Times 13 April 1916: p. 11

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Poor thing! Sacrificed to the relentless whims of the public! What a horrid nuisance, having to be fitted for all those Redfern and Lucile confections! The anonymous narrator may be one of the genuine “staresses” of the Silver Screen, but she seems to be ignorant of the well-known solution to the problem of her bulging wardrobe: the second-hand clothes trade. This well-known dealer reported a brisk trade with stage actresses:

I deal extensively, too, with actresses. They can find among the stock of stage dresses gowns that are suited to the role they are to play, and the reduced cost of which is very gratifying both to their managers and themselves. In fact, the stage dresses go back and forth among the actresses, many times before they begin to show wear. I act the part of the middleman, you see, in these cases, and get paid for the bother of caring for the garments properly while they are here awaiting a new purchaser in the interval when they are not being worn on the stage.

Some of these richer gowns are sold to me by actresses who have no need for them off the stage, and dispose of them as soon as the play in which they were worn has run out its course at the theater.” The Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 9 May 1891: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.


Boudoir Coffee: A French Fad: 1903


“It is too bad about Clarissa,” a sweet old lady observed, after a visit to a city relation. “She is so poorly she has to have her breakfast in bed every morning.”

“More likely its pure laziness,” snapped her less charitable sister.

It may happen that the city cousin, if she be up to date, is neither the one nor the other. There is no longer either surmise of a suspicion of laziness attached to the woman who takes the first meal of the day, if not in bed, at least in her own room. Each day may have for her an infinity of duties to be performed. She husbands her forces for the fray by eating before she dresses, and over her solitary coffee cup quietly lays the plans for her campaign.

The boudoir breakfast is undoubtedly an importation from the French, and as such will meet with little favour from many American husbands and fathers. With them the term French is synonymous with unpronounceable and unintelligible menus and inordinately large bills.

No French folderols for me,” fumed one crusty old gentleman. “I want my family to come down to breakfast like Christians and have something solid and comforting like ham and eggs.” If he had been a New Englander he would probably have added to his bill of fare a doughnut, indigestible buckwheat cakes, or a piece of pie.

It is small wonder if milady holds up her hands in horror at the thought. Modern hygiene tells her that in a majority of cases the simple foreign breakfast of coffee and rolls is far more healthful than one that over-loads the stomach. If she be a woman of leisure who exercises little, a heavy breakfast will induce headache. Above all, it creates fat, and the woman of middle age who has any desires in the direction of figure must avoid it as a deadly enemy.

The business woman, who expects a morning of hard brain work, will find that the simple breakfast is the best for keeping her head clear. As one successful woman said when asked about her breakfast: “I never dare take anything but some cocoa and a roll or two. Anything else makes me dull and heavy, and unfit for my day’s work.” Some women go a step further and taboo breakfasts altogether, though this practice cannot be recommended as an example for general following.

But the French woman does not cling to her simple boudoir breakfast for hygienic reasons only. Far from it. The French woman is a marvel at preserving appearances. She is taught from childhood to bend all her energies to the feat of being charming under all circumstances. She must always be beautiful—or appear so.

Very few women are charming before breakfast. As one frankly remarked: “I am always bad tempered before I have my coffee, and bad temper makes me hideous.” The French woman has long recognized this truth, and her American sisters are beginning to see her wisdom.

The shaded light of the boudoir conceals much that is unpleasant.  The rose-colored hangings and carefully chosen color effects reflect colors in pale cheeks, and cheat madame into forgetting that the night has made her twelve hours older. So she clings to her boudoir till the reviving moment of breakfast is past.

Another reason for the boudoir breakfast is found in the universal feminine delight in silky, lace negligees and dressing sacques. Some women have a dozen of them, embroidered, sweet with sachet, and rivalling the colors of the butterfly. There are strange exotic creations, heavy with embroidery and breathing sandalwood from China and Japan. There are exquisite creations from the hands of the best known French modistes. And yet all this loveliness is for boudoir wear only. Unless the meal is strictly en famille, they are decidedly out of place in the breakfast room. Small wonder, then, that madame makes every excuse to linger in her boudoir and luxuriate. The boudoir breakfast is one of these excuses.

A dainty kimono for the guest room or for milady's boudoir. http://www.mfa.org/collections/object/womans-dressing-gown-439859

A dainty kimono for the guest room or for milady’s boudoir. http://www.mfa.org/collections/object/womans-dressing-gown-439859

Every well-ordered guest chamber now has its dainty kimono and slippers ready for the guest to don. They are there for the boudoir breakfast, and the last remark of the hostess at night will be “And what time shall I order your coffee sent to your room” If the guest is an old friend, she may be admitted to a share in the breakfast of her hostess, and then plans are laid and confidences exchanged. Over the teacups is not nearly so delightful as over the coffee cups at a boudoir breakfast.

These coffee cups are a joy in themselves. They are no longer drawn from the ordinary china dinner set. The fad for boudoir breakfasts has created special daintiness of patterns. They include every dish which might possibly be needed. These individual services come with a large tray of papier mache, both light and strong. Its color usually matches the ground-work of the china, though, as it is more often hidden by a fringed napkin, this might seem a useless precaution.

The different individual services vary slightly. Some are larger than others, so as to accommodate something besides the simple breakfast of coffee and rolls. One of the fullest sets contains both a coffee and chocolate pot, a covered dish which will hold toast or a breakfast portion of bacon and eggs, a deep saucer for cereal, and egg cup, a plate, a cup and a saucer.

One of these dainty sets would make an acceptable present for almost any woman, since they are convenient in case of illness. The price might be a bar to some pocketbooks, however. The woman who can afford a maid to serve her in her own room can usually afford china, so there is nothing cheap about these individual sets.

The newest designs in these services and fruit decorations in natural size and colorings. The same fruit—rosy peaches, purple grapes, or golden pears—appear on all the pieces of one set.

If madame has quieter tastes there are delicate traceries and Oriental bands in subdued colorings. Rose patterns are always to be found. Indeed the less expensive sets are in French china in dainty floral designs. About all of these individual sets there is the charm which belongs to individual possession of every kind. Madame looks upon her boudoir breakfast set with a sigh of satisfaction as she says: “The dinner china I buy to suit my husband and my guests, but this is for myself alone.” Augusta [GA] Chronicle 11 October 1903: p. 21

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Ladies of the maid-possessing classes seemed to lead their lives nearly entirely apart from the male of the species. Husbands and wives had separate spheres of influence and often separate bedchambers. Their lives might touch perhaps at dinner, or at a party, and on the occasions for the begetting of heirs.  Dainty French china and negligees from Lucile were paid for, but not necessarily enjoyed, by the head of the household, unless he was purchasing similar luxury goods for some other lady, in which case he might revel in coffee and rolls in a bijoux residence in St John’s Wood. Mistresses are always charming before breakfast.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

Lucile vs. M. Poiret: The Gauntlet is Thrown Down: 1912

A nightdress by Lucile at the Victoria & Albert Museum http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O230750/nightdress-lucile/

A nightdress by Lucile at the Victoria & Albert Museum http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O230750/nightdress-lucile/

An unfortunate difference of opinion has broken out between the men and the women dressmakers as represented by the chief European exponents of the art. On the one hand we have M. Poiret, that truly distinguished Frenchman who permits himself to minister sartorially to the women of the world, while upon the other side is Lady Duff-Gordon, the chief director of Lucile’s. In this instance the provocation comes from the man, which is so rarely the case as to be remarkable. M. Poiret was actually guilty of saying for publication that “man only can suit a woman in dress. The woman dressmaker drowns herself in details and neglects the outline.”  Now we had supposed that this was unquestionably true. The same thing has often been said before, and so far without any vociferous contradiction, and when a woman does not contradict something derogatory to her own sex it is presumably true. Sometimes it is true when she does contradict it. Every one remembers the explanation once given for the predominance of the male dressmaker. His woman competitor, we were told, refuses to recognize any fraction of the inch less than the quarter, while the male mind condescends to eighths and sixteenths. Consequently man secures a precise fit where the woman fails to do so. This may be a libel. Who are we that we should decide upon such a point.

But the woman dressmaker has found a champion in Lady Duff-Gordon, who has been visited by a representative of the London Daily Express, It is strange how eager are these newspaper men to stir up trouble and to set nations and sexes by the ears. Lady Duff-Gordon listened to the charge of M. Poiret, and like Sam Weller’s mother-in-law she “swelled wisibly” with defiance and indignation. For the moment she became the incarnation of her downtrodden sex and repelled with scorn the insinuation of her Parisian rival.

“Of course,” she said, “the woman dressmaker remembers details, and it is the details, the little touches, that make a dress charming and distinctive. But let me try to explain to you what I mean.”

Now of what earthly use is it to send a man reporter upon such an errand as this? This particular scribe in the grasp of Lady Duff-Gordon was as clay in the hands of the potter. She gave some sort of a signal, waved a magic wand, muttered a few words of an incantation, and in swept a procession of young women of bewildering beauty and so attired as to abash the sunlight. Now, said Lady Duff-Gordon, what do you think of that ? Are they not exquisite ? The wretched youth tried to check an almost ungovernable tendency toward violent mania and feebly gibbered that they were. But he was referring to the young women themselves, and Lady Duff-Gordon knew that he was and yet she was not ashamed to take advantage of the weaknesses peculiar to his frail and faulty sex.

“Now,” she said, “I will show you why it pleases you,” stopping one of the divine ones for more intimate inspection and thus reducing her victim to a state of drooling imbecility. “It is this insertion, this little ornament, this suggestion of a dainty underskirt that makes the complete harmony that is so good to look upon. Hard outlines are not feminine. They do not please.”

Of course the poor youth had nothing to say, except telepathically. He was far too modest to show an undue enthusiasm for the “suggestion of a dainty underskirt.” Somehow it didn’t seem quite nice to be too analytic, and that was exactly his persecutor’s point. Men had no right to analyze. They were concerned with the general effect, “A man has no business to understand a woman’s dress. It is not his metier. It is his to appreciate and enjoy the result without understanding how it is attained. “As a matter of fact, no real man ever does understand. He can not explain exactly what a woman is wearing, but he knows quite well if she is looking charming or if she is looking grotesque and unpleasing.

“Considering that clothes, to be delightful, must fit the nature of the wearer, it is surely evident that a woman dressmaker must be more successful than a man in making the completely and delightfully feminine — the robe that is soft and delicate and graceful — and this is done not by swathing the figure with hard lines, but by a subtle combination and by many little details.  “I will say this,” added Lady Duff-Gordon. “I consider that a man is as much out of his province in making women’s clothes as a woman would be in making men’s. Anyhow, my success in Paris seems to show that women themselves realize that it is the details that matter.” 

The Argonaut [San Francisco, CA] 6 January 1912

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The censorious might say that “the Devil is in those details.” Lady Duff-Gordon was famously an advocate of titillating lingerie and “immoral” tea-gowns for the average society woman, alluring garments formerly confined to the wardrobe of the professional courtesan.

M. Poiret had a fondness for the straight, clean line and the rectangular. Not for him the laces and frills of Lucile’s confections. However,  in his focus on the outline, he erred. He wanted his creations to “read beautifully from afar,” yet in his quest for the overarching silhouette, it is said that the all-important detail of quality construction was neglected.

The two designers shared some similarities. Like Lady Duff-Gordon, M. Poiret was a master of publicity, staging fashion shows and soirees to launch collections and products. Both designers claimed to have liberated women from their restrictive corsets. Both gave their designs fanciful and romantic names.

Were the two to fight a duel—scissors at 50 paces—it might come down to a draw—and a matter of taste: M. Poiret for the tailored garçonne look or a touch of orientalism; Lucile for dreamy pastel chiffons. Chacun son goût .

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.


“An Inspiration to Watch You Try on a Gown:” Clever Modistes: 1893

An exotic robe from Lucile, Lady Duff-Gordon. Image from UCLA. https://blogs.library.ucla.edu/special/tag/lucy-duff-gordon/

An exotic robe from Lucile, Lady Duff-Gordon. Image from UCLA. https://blogs.library.ucla.edu/special/tag/lucy-duff-gordon/

A visit to the imposing mansion occupied by two clever modistes is thus described in the New York Sun:

“When a customer drives up to the stately entrance, a liveried footman assists her to alight, and then holds open the heavy plate -glass vestibule doors. Apparently he is the sole masculine element on the place, for no sooner does she enter the wide, lofty hall, carpeted through in crimson, than three or four well-dressed women come forward. Two half-grown maids — bell-girls, evidently — sit about in crisp skirts and smart caps and aprons, ready to run errands at a moment’s notice. All about are evidences of luxury and wealth. Hot-house flowers bloom everywhere, and cheerful wood-fires burn in wide-open chimney fire-places. One of the reception committee takes the visitor in hand, and in five minutes the artless woman is convinced the whole establishment has been on the qui vive for her coming. All these long-waisted, admirably groomed young persons know her by name, a dozen anxious inquiries are made for her health. They are sure months have elapsed since her last visit, during which time she has certainly grown stouter or thinner, as the case and her aspirations warrant. After one of the small waiting-maids has been dispatched and bidden, with great empressement, to say that ‘Mrs. Jones is willing to be fitted,’ the flattered visitor is conducted into a cozy lounging-room.

Here she is relieved of her wraps, is settled in a big arm-chair, has a hassock thrust under her feet, and tea is offered her, together with the latest magazines or a dish of harmless gossip. If in advance of her appointment, she is never suffered to be wearied, for the deferential, but loquacious, attendant talks cleverly and is a genius at listening to personalties, no matter how dull. Accounts of Maud’s toothache, the butler’s impertinence, or Mr. Jones’s ill temper apparently thrill her with interest, and when the bell-girl begs madam’s presence in the fitting-room, she has absolutely to tear herself away.

However, one fails to appreciate the triumph of the system until a gown is to be tried on. Here more bows, and smiles, and sugar-coated inquiries await the visitor. Her basted lining is produced, and just as she is about to slip it on, the woman begs a thousand pardons, envelops madam’s bare shoulders in a fleecy wrap, and taps the bell sharply. She then explains that the senior member of the firm, Mme. A., made it a special point to be called when Mrs. Jones should be fitted. ‘She says the lines of your figure are a poem,’ adds the adroit flatterer, ‘and it is an inspiration to watch you try on a gown.’

By this time Mme. A. appears in a trailing robe of scarlet crepe de chine, bringing with her a perfume of violets. She is an elegant consummation of the methods that dominate her establishment, all suavity and smartness. She talks entertainingly as the work progresses, then breaks off to advise a slight lowering of the waist line, warns the fitters to remember they are handling the handsomest figure in New-York city, and she (Mme. A.) will permit no carelessness or marring of its symmetry. To prevent tedium she orders a number of Parisian novelties to be shaken free of their tissue paper and sacheted cases, catches up a sumptuous golden-brown velvet, holds it near her customer’s rosy cheek, and is filled with speechless admiration at its becomingness.

This sort of thing simply coins gold for the firm. It is as much a part of the business as meeting due notes, employing expert hands, or charging exorbitant prices. There is plenty of hard, shrewd sense, thriftiness, and superior ability behind this flummery, but women dearly love to be hoodwinked, and there are some people with wit enough to take advantage of this knowledge.”

The Argonaut [San Francisco CA] 6 February 1893

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  The two modistes sound as if they were precursors to Lucile, Lady Duff-Gordon, famed Edwardian couturière. Here is how one of her biographers describes her salon:

Reclining in a flowing tea-gown upon a chaise longue in the showroom of her Swiss-gray salons, her trademark bandeau encircling a mass of copper locks and rows of pearls sweeping past her knees, Lucile held court for her flutter of worshipful minions, directed her legion of assistants and received her august patrons. Here, chattering and animated, she smoked monogrammed, scented cigarettes perched in a long, straw-tipped holder, wielded a diamond-studded lorgnette and intermittently lavished silken-gloved caresses upon the ubiquitous swarm of pets which lay contented across her lap or sat protectively at her feet.

Lucile: Her Life by Design, Randy Bigham

The Rose Room, image from http://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org

The Rose Room, image from http://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org

Lucile also had a special display area for her line of startlingly sensuous lingerie–The Rose Room.

“Its walls were hung with pink taffeta, over-draped with the frailest lace and the pink taffeta curtains at the windows and around the day-bed were caught up with garlands of satin, taffeta and jeweled flowers” The day-bed, a focal point of the Rose Room, was of carved, gilded wood, upholstered in rose-pink.  It was a replica of a day-bed Madame de Pompadour had owned and was in keeping with the rococo theme of the room.   [Source: The IT Girls: Lucy, Lady Duff Gordon, the Couturiere ‘Lucile’, and Elinor Glyn, Romantic Novelist, Meredith Etherington-Smith and Jeremy Pilcher,London: Hamish Hamilton, 1986.]

Mrs Daffodil has previously reported on “The Queen of Saleswomen,” a talented lady with a clever line of patter to induce a customer to buy. Salesmanship is all about the Psychology of the Individual.  And, perhaps, about an atmosphere where anything, including the most intimate dreams of the client, may come true.