Rate the dress

Rate the Dress: Purple personalities

Evening dress, London, 1912, Lucile (1863 - 1935), Silk, embroidered & appliqued metal thread, glass beads, sequins (gelatin?), metal hooks & eyes, silk net, ©Victoria & Albert Museum T.35-1960

Update: Voting closed

After our discussions about makers & wearers with the last few dresses, I thought it might be interesting to see a dress where we know the wearer, and the designer, as well as a great deal about the actual makers of the dress.

Last Week: an 1880s velvet and satin frock

The brown velvet and satin dress was a smash hit, with a well-deserved round of applause for the maker. It lost a point here and there because of the bustle or the colour (and a couple of points for something that I think was a misunderstanding in construction ūüôĀ ), but overall you deemed it practically perfect in every way.

The Total: 9.7 out of 10

Fully three-quarters of the ratings for last week’s dress were perfect 10s!

This week: a 1912 evening dress by Lucile

I thought we needed a pop of colour after a few weeks of predominantly dark or white dresses, and this Lucile gown fit the bill perfectly, while also being a great example of a gown where the designer, makers, and wearers are all (more or less) known.

Evening dress, London, 1912, Lucile (1863 - 1935), Silk, embroidered & appliqued metal thread, glass beads, sequins (gelatin?), metal hooks & eyes, silk net, ©Victoria & Albert Museum T.35-1960
Evening dress, London, 1912, Lucile (1863 – 1935), Silk, embroidered & appliqued metal thread, glass beads, sequins (gelatin?), metal hooks & eyes, silk net,
©Victoria & Albert Museum T.35-1960

This very purple evening dress was designed by Lucile (Lady Duff-Gordon) for socialite Heather Firbank. Firbank was the daughter of a wealthy politician. She was in her early 20s when she commissioned this dress, and like much of her wardrobe it comes in a shade of purple to complement her name.

Evening dress, London, 1912, Lucile (1863 - 1935), Silk, embroidered & appliqued metal thread, glass beads, sequins (gelatin?), metal hooks & eyes, silk net, ©Victoria & Albert Museum T.35-1960
Evening dress, London, 1912, Lucile (1863 – 1935), Silk, embroidered & appliqued metal thread, glass beads, sequins (gelatin?), metal hooks & eyes, silk net,
©Victoria & Albert Museum T.35-1960

Firbank must have been a confident young woman: in addition to her distinct dress sense, she chose never to marry, at a time when that was an extremely unconventional choice for a woman.

Evening dress, London, 1912, Lucile (1863 - 1935), Silk, embroidered & appliqued metal thread, glass beads, sequins (gelatin?), metal hooks & eyes, silk net, ©Victoria & Albert Museum T.35-1960
Evening dress, London, 1912, Lucile (1863 – 1935), Silk, embroidered & appliqued metal thread, glass beads, sequins (gelatin?), metal hooks & eyes, silk net
©Victoria & Albert Museum T.35-1960

Firbank commissioned her dress from an equally confident and distinctive woman. Lucile started making dresses when she needed to support herself and her daughter after divorcing her drunken, philandering first husband. Although she wasn’t a self made woman in the true sense (she came from the upper classes and had family support as she started out), she always approached Lucile Inc as a business which was intended to make money, rather than as a hobby.

Evening dress, London, 1912, Lucile (1863 - 1935), Silk, embroidered & appliqued metal thread, glass beads, sequins (gelatin?), metal hooks & eyes, silk net, ©Victoria & Albert Museum T.35-1960
Evening dress, London, 1912, Lucile (1863 – 1935), Silk, embroidered & appliqued metal thread, glass beads, sequins (gelatin?), metal hooks & eyes, silk net
©Victoria & Albert Museum T.35-1960

As part of her businesslike approach to fashion, once Lucile got popular she didn’t design all her frocks: merely signed off on designs by assistants and sketch artists that fit her aesthetic. It’s possible this dress was one of those designs: a creation by an artist, perhaps with input from the client, that was merely looked over by the couturier at the end. Or perhaps it was entirely by Lucile!

Evening dress, London, 1912, Lucile (1863 - 1935), Silk, embroidered & appliqued metal thread, glass beads, sequins (gelatin?), metal hooks & eyes, silk net, ©Victoria & Albert Museum T.35-1960
Evening dress, London, 1912, Lucile (1863 – 1935), Silk, embroidered & appliqued metal thread, glass beads, sequins (gelatin?), metal hooks & eyes, silk net
©Victoria & Albert Museum T.35-1960

The business and making end of Lucile’s couture house is well documented, so we have a good idea of the craftspeople behind the dresses. For a number of them, particularly the fitters and sketch artists, working for a house like Lucile was a launchpad to their own atelier. Even for the lowest thread sweeper, a position at a couture house was enviable: eminently respectable, well paid by the standards of the time, and one of the few places a woman could build a career.

Evening dress, London, 1912, Lucile (1863 - 1935), Silk, embroidered & appliqued metal thread, glass beads, sequins (gelatin?), metal hooks & eyes, silk net, ©Victoria & Albert Museum T.35-1960
Evening dress, London, 1912, Lucile (1863 – 1935), Silk, embroidered & appliqued metal thread, glass beads, sequins (gelatin?), metal hooks & eyes, silk net
©Victoria & Albert Museum T.35-1960

Economic and social history aside, what do you think of the aesthetics of this dress?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10

A reminder about rating ‚Äď feel free to be critical if you don‚Äôt like a thing, but make sure that your comments aren‚Äôt actually insulting to those who do like a garment.  Phrase criticism as your opinion, rather than a flat fact. Our different tastes are what make Rate the Dress so interesting.  It‚Äôs no fun when a comment implies that anyone who doesn‚Äôt agree with it, or who would wear a garment, is totally lacking in taste. 

As usual, nothing more complicated than a .5.  I also hugely appreciate it if you only do one rating, and set it on a line at the very end of your comment.

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