Lady Lucy Duff Gordon Biography

Fashion Designer, Fashion Designer (1863–1935)
A well-known fashion designer, Lady Lucy Duff Gordon was one of the survivors of the 1912 Titanic disaster.


Lady Lucy Duff Gordon was born on June 13, 1863, in London, England. To support herself and her child, she became a dressmaker. By 1910, Duff Gordon had also opened a shop in New York to sell her designs. The demand for her clothing was increasing. It was business that led her and her husband to book passage on the Titanic in 1912. The Duff Gordons made their way onto Lifeboat 1 and survived.

Early Life

Clothing designer and Titanic survivor Lady Lucy Duff-Gordon was born Lucy Christiana Sutherland on June 13, 1863, in London, England. A well-known fashion designer, Duff-Gordon was one of the survivors of the 1912 Titanic disaster. The daughter of a British engineer, she lived with her mother and sister on her grandparents' farm in Canada for a time after her father's early death.

Successful Fashion Business

At the age of 18, Duff-Gordon married for the first time. It was a brief union that ended in divorce and produced one child, a daughter named Esmé. To support herself and her child, Duff-Gordon became a dressmaker. The business was eventually known as Maison Lucile and she took to calling her "Lucile" professionally. At first, Sir Cosmo Duff-Gordon was an investor in her company and later their relationship turned personal. The couple was married in 1900.

By 1910, Duff-Gordon had also opened a shop in New York to sell her designs. The demand for her clothing was increasing, and she began traveling a lot between New York, London, and Paris. It was business that led her and her husband to book passage on the Titanic in 1912. Much had been written about the Titanic, the latest addition to the White Star Line and how it was supposed to the largest and most luxurious passenger ship at the time. But Duff-Gordon had some reservations about traveling on the new, untested ship.

Aboard the Titanic

On April 10, 1912, the Duff Gordons boarded the ship in Cherbourg, France. The couple was traveling under the name "Mr. & Mrs. Morgan," for some unknown reason. For the first few days, the trip was pleasant, which may have eased some of Duff Gordon’s fears about the vessel.

Unfortunately, Duff Gordon's concerns about the Titanic were not without merit. On the night of April 14, 1912, around 11:40 p.m., the mighty vessel struck an iceberg. Duff-Gordon heard the collision and then people outside of her cabin running about. She went to her husband's cabin and eventually convinced him to go investigate. He ran into John Jacob Astor and the two decided to return to their wives to tell them to get dressed and go up to the deck.

Punctured in places by the ice, the Titanic was damaged and began to fill with water. Soon after Captain Edward J. Smith ordered the lifeboats readied and prepared to evacuate the ship, starting with women and children first. But neither the ship nor the crew were prepared for such an emergency. There were not enough room in the lifeboats for everyone and some of the boats were put into the water when they were not even half full.

The Rescue

The Duff-Gordons made their way onto Lifeboat 1, which held only 12 passengers when it lowered into the water. The craft had been built to hold 40 people. In later inquiries, this fact came under a lot of scrutiny as did the Duff-Gordons. Lucy Duff-Gordon drew the ire of her fellow passengers by complaining about her ruined nightdress at a time when other people were dying.

In response to her comment, a crew member said that they had lost everything including their pay when the ship went down. Cosmo Duff-Gordon then impulsively promised the seven crew members on the boat five pounds each to cover the cost of their lost possessions. This action was later viewed as a bribe to encourage the crew not to return to pick up more survivors.

On the morning of April 15, the passengers of Lifeboat 1 were taken aboard the Carpathia, a ship that answered Titanic's distress call. The Duff-Gordons' behavior on board seemed odd to many. Lucy Duff-Gordon asked the crew from her boat to sign her lifebelt as a souvenir and pose for a group photograph.

Not long after the disaster, the Duff-Gordons were back in England. They became the subject of much ridicule in the press, with their lifeboat being called the "money boat" because the perceived bribe by Cosmo. The reports indicated that the money was offered to the crew to prevent them from returning to the wreckage site.

Lasting Impact of the Titanic

In May, both Cosmo and Lucy Duff Gordon were called to testify at a British inquiry into the sinking of the Titanic. While Cosmo found to be innocent of any wrongdoing, the whole incident cast a dark shadow over the rest of his life. Lucy returned to her fashion work and even had a column in Harper’s Bazaar for a time. Not a skilled business manager, Duff Gordon had to close up Maison Lucile because financial mismanagement in the mid-1920s.

A year after Cosmo’s death in 1931, Duff Gordon wrote her memoirs, Discretions and Indiscretions. She died on April 21, 1935, in London.

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