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Lot 1641: Lady Duff-Gordon
RR Auction's Titanic 100 Year Anniversary Auction
April 26, 2012
Amherst, NH, USA
Description: Original silk Japanese kimono-style full-length robe worn by iconic Titanic First Class passenger Lucy Christiana a.k.a. Lady Duff-Gordon ("Lucile") as she escaped Titanic into a lifeboat and later aboard the rescue ship R.M.S. Carpathia. The kimono and its relation to Duff-Gordon's escape from the sinking ship has been described in numerous publications and correspondence. An example can be found on page 151 of The It Girls (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1986), a book on the lives of Duff-Gordon and her sister, novelist Elinor Glyn. Duff-Gordon also describes the kimono in a letter to her sister, which is referenced in the provenance letter included with this lot. A letter written by Duff-Gordon's assistant, Laura Francatelli, who was saved with her on Titanic, a copy of which was sold by Christies South Kensington on May 16, 2007, (Lot 63) also describes the kimono, the above noting that the kimono was trimmed in black.In a handwritten letter from Lady Duff-Gordon's granddaughter, Lady Clare Lindsay, to a Lady Duff-Gordon fashion authority, she mentions the "kimono-style wrap" which she describes as "silvery grey-pale lavender with rather faded...design" and suggests that he determine whether it is the same kimono which Lady Duff-Gordon wore on Titanic. A copy of that letter is included with the lot. In a letter from the recipient dated 26 July 2001, he states, in part, "It was only after comparing the robe, once I had it in my possession, to descriptions in the book The It Girls, to a mention in Edith Rosenbaum's Women's Wear Daily article, and finally (and most significantly) to a reference in a fragment of a letter of Lucy's to her sister...that I was able to positively identify it as absolutely the very robe in which Lucy Duff-Gordon escaped the Titanic." [Emphasis added] An excerpt of this letter is included in the lot.The description of the robe contained in Lady Clare's letter is quite accurate. Depending on the surrounding lighting, the color of the now faded kimono could appear to be a from a pale green to lavender, or mauve. But the designs, which have been described as a Persian Tree pattern and interlocking clover design, have maintained their original lavender colors quite well. From a distance, the designs appear to be embroidered but they are actually a raised type of printing. Much of the garment is trimmed in black precisely as Lady Duff-Gordon had described. A portion of the upper part of the kimono does not appear to have been completely sewn, possibly owing to haste in which it was retrieved from Duff-Gordon's Paris shop before she embarked. Following an exhibition tour in the U.K., the kimono had remained in private collections. Copies of articles mentioning the kimono on exhibition are included with the lot.It appears likely that the robe is not a Lucile design but was made from material Duff-Gordon obtained from Italian fashion designer Mariano Fortuny from whom she purchased textiles. A discussion of this can be found on the message board of the Encyclopedia-Titanica website here: http://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/discus/messages/5921/134042.html?1223503192. Some years ago a question arose as to whether the kimono would have been on Titanic if it were not designed by Duff-Gordon personally. The issue was moot since Duff-Gordon had not claimed she designed the pattern herself. In fact, she had been in Paris before she embarked on Titanic at Cherbourg, France to begin setting up a shop of her own there - merely a month before Titanic sailed - when she was called to New York on business. However, the black trim described in her letter may have been added in her own shop as it is something that would not be added until the garment were nearing completion, and Fortuny's completed designs of the period do not appear to have been trimmed in black. In any event, little did Lady Duff-Gordon realize that her description of the kimono being trimmed in black would some day help to further establish its identity!This is in incredible opportunity to acquire an actual garment worn aboard Titanic, a lifeboat, and the Carpathia by one of the most iconic passengers to have sailed on Titanic. It is accompanied by documentation establishing that it was in the possession of Lady Duff-Gordon's descendants. It is described in numerous media and correspondence down to its Japanese kimono design, its silk material, its color and even the fact that it was trimmed-as well as the actual color of the trim! And as if anything more than that were needed, it is also authenticated by a Lady Duff-Gordon fashion authority. It would make an absolutely exquisite display piece and would easily become the centerpiece of any collection.Condition: In overall good to very good condition, with expected age wear, a separation and some material loss along back and neck, several other tears and frayed areas, with a few other small areas of material loss, light overall fading to pattern, as well as some scattered light discoloration to material.Lady Duff-Gordon, her husband, Sir Cosmo, and her maid boarded the Titanic at Cherbourg. By then, Lucile was already an established fashion designer. The Duff-Gordon's and their maid, Laura Francatelli, were rescued in emergency lifeboat 1 which carried only 12 people despite having a capacity for 40. Their rescue was not without controversy. Cosmo Duff-Gordon had promised the crew members of their lifeboat 5 pounds each to cover the cost of their lost possessions. The gesture was later viewed as an incentive for the crew not to return to pick up additional survivors. The Duff-Gordons denied this but their lifeboat was nevertheless dubbed "The Money Boat." Lady Duff-Gordon passed away in London in April 1935.Clearly, the importance of the garment cannot be overstated.