August 2, 2011

Can The Real Lady Duff Step Forward?

Can the real Lady Duff step forward......or how the Internet is a veritable minefield of false and misleading information.

I was a bit upset recently after one of my good customers brought to my attention an article on another vintage lingerie blog detailing certain errors in the details of one of my auctions.

What made it worse was that she (my customer) had purchased the item and was now questioning the gown’s authenticity because it appeared that the item was not as she had believed....

After having purchased this very lovely 'Lady Duff' gown from me on July 29 2011, my customer came across an article that was posted nearly two weeks before, by one of my blogger friends, a mutual vintage lingerie lover and customer that also maintains a popular vintage lingerie blog under the persona 'A Slip of a Girl'.

The article was entitled 'This Week's OMG In Lingerie (Or, Will The Real Lady Duff Please Stand Up?)'. It highlighted that not everything was above board with one of my auctions. 'A Slip of a Girl' points out that I had incorrectly connected the gown to the famous designer Lady Duff Gordon while it actually had nothing to do with her.

I immediate apologized and offered my customer the option to a refund, etc. if she was unhappy with the item. I also decided to check the validity of my auction's wording and to research the issue in general.

Although I had included a photo clearly showing the label 'Lady Duff' to help potential buyers correctly identify the gown, I included a short bio of Lady Duff Gordon underneath, believing they were connected.

Putting my Sherlock Holmes cap on I started to investigate. My first step was to find out where 'A Slip of a Girl' obtained her information. She mentioned the following blog:
Lady Duff Gordon - the designer behind LUCILLE Lingerie, not Lady Duff Lingerie
A little bit of reading and it seemed that this blog article was basically a copy of this blog article:
Lady Duff Gordon - the designer behind Lucile, not Lady Duff lingerie

But wait...even before my search started, it had hit a dead end. It can really be frustrating when you are trying to verify or follow up information that you see posted around the Internet and the author has not tried to cite the sources.

Now I realize we are not talking about the same standards as found in academic publishing, but it seems a good practice for two reasons, firstly to avoid risks of being accused of plagiarism and the second reason is to ensure that credit is given to the original authors whose work has been used.

Anyway, back to the hunt for clues. After searching the Internet in places ranging from various blogs, auctions and even deep into the bowels of the public records of New York City (as available over the Internet), I was able to clear up the confusion over Lady Duff Gordon and the Lady Duff label.

But first, who is Lady Duff Gordon? Instead of repeating what others have written I will give direct credit to others by linking to them, as they have already done an excellent job:
tfs The Fashion Spot
Caitlin Rose: I Love Lucile
Lucy Christina Duff-Gordon Death Certificate
Encyclopedia Titanica

Ok, back to the main point of this article - How buying, reviewing and selling vintage lingerie can be a mine field, even for us that have been doing it for years.!!!

I have had an active interest in vintage lingerie since my early 20's (yes, I'm an old broad in my mid 40's). Having started selling on eBay nearly ten years ago, I have worked hard to earn my 'Top-rated Seller and Powerseller’ status and ended up being one of the top vintage lingerie sellers on eBay.

In my time I must have come across most of the designers, companies and brands out there in lingerie. But the issue of vintage "Lady Duff nightgowns" demonstrates that even years of experience does not always mean you cannot get caught out.

Using various sources that are linked in this article, I was able to make sense of everything, to a point.

Lucy Christiana, Lady Lucy Duff Gordon (1863–1935) of Titanic fame, was a leading fashion couturier in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century’s. With her 'Lucile' couture houses in London, Paris, New York City and Chicago, she dressed high society, the stage and early silent cinema stars with her lingerie, tea gowns and evening wear.

They could be sold under such names, labels and tags as 'Lucile', “Lucile Ltd', ‘Lady Duff Gordon' and Lucile Duff Gordon'. Here are some examples: Vintage Fashion Guild.

Since then, she has remained a much respected designer, even after all these years and has remained popular in the vintage clothing, fashion, and lingerie world.

I have come to the following conclusions after researching the credited links above:

It seems that there is no freely available evidence that the 'Lady Duff' label has had any connection with the real Lady Duff Gordon, directly or indirectly. Without further information, I suspect that the label 'Lady Duff' was most likely used by another company to make their products more appealing to customers at that time.

The blog article at The Vintage Bulletin: Lady Duff Gordon - the designer behind Lucile, not Lady Duff lingerie, written by vintageloversanonymous at The Vintage Bulletin seems to indicate that there was a company called Lady Duff. In my research, I found no records or references to such.

What seem more likely is that the 'Lady Duff' brand/label was manufactured by De Garcy, Inc., 38 East 32nd St, New York. This assumption is based upon the fact that in a number of different advertisements for the 'Lady Duff' range of products, it can be clearly seen that this companies name and address is the only other tangible detail present.

The same blog post at the Vintage Bulletin mentions that the Lady Duff lingerie/company (or De Garcy, Inc.?) first showed up in 1934. If that is the case I suspect that Lucile Ltd. (minus ‘Lady Duff Gordon’) would have raised issue with its use. Again there is no evidence of such.

On a side note, the public records from New York show nothing for a company by the name of De Garcy, Inc. before the 1950s. To be honest, there seems to be very little information about them on the Internet. Although the lingerie made by them looks typical of the style of the mid 1930’s to 1940’s.

It seems that genuine Lady Duff Gordon items can be identified by labels/tags such as 'Lucile', “Lucile Ltd', ‘Lady Duff Gordon' and Lucile Duff Gordon'.

After all that I have read, I have developed a feeling that with her history (especially later on in life), we may very well find out that items designed by her could appear under other labels. I admit that this speculation has no concrete foundation but some of the unanswered questions below helped to lead me towards this outlandish conclusion.

The Unanswered Questions
1. What labels were used for items designed by 'Lady Duff Gordon' and sold through Sears, Roebuck & Co.? (The catalog 'Portfolio of Lady Duff-Gordon's Original Designs Wearing Apparel for the Working Women of America' supplied by Sears, Roebuck & Co. clearly indicates that the designs were by Lady Duff Gordon).

2. After leaving Lucile Lid. In 1922 Lady Duff Gordon working from private premises, designing personally for individual clients until she retired. What labels were used for this period?

3. After Lady Duff Gordon left Lucile Ltd, the company continued (with less success) to make garments. The question is who was the designer and were they sold under the 'Lucile' or 'Lucile Ltd. Labels?

A Common Mistake
During my research I came across a number of (already sold) Lady Duff nightgown’s which include similar mistakes or ambiguity over the ‘Lucille’ and 'Lady Duff' brands.

Here are a couple (sold gowns):
No Vacancy 1940's Nightgown
Nightingale Vintage Lady Duff Silk Slip Dress 1920-1930

The mistaken connection between 'Lady Duff' and Lady Duff-Gordon seems to be quite common. Funny, this little bit of research seems to raise as many questions as answers, but is this not the nature of vintage lingerie.

If anything, it has impressed upon me the importance of not letting my guard down in identifying vintage items, even after so many years 'in the trade'. Just that little bit of extra effort can really help all of us.

This time I was lucky and my customer who purchased the item e-mailed me back, understanding how this happened and was quite happy to keep it.

In the hope of avoiding this kind of issue happening again, I would ask all of you to drop me a line if you notice such an error in my auctions in the future, in fact let any seller out of courtesy know their error. We are all only human at the end of the day.

It would have been nice if this error had been bought to my attention prior to my Lady Duff being sold, but it all ended up fine.

1 comment:

Sweet Cherry Vintage Lingerie said...

On August 2, 2011 I wrote Can The Real Lady Duff Step Forward?

I was lucky enough for Miss Camilla Blois, great great granddaughter of Lady Duff Gordon, the brainchild behind Lucile and Co Lingerie contact me with concern (and rightfully so) about a quote that I included (but since removed).

My original post "Although she may have been a significant force in the world of fashion at that time, she was not very good when it can to the business side of things. She ended up in personal bankruptcy and retired in 1932 to only die three years later".

Miss Blois pointed out to me, "I would like to point out however that my grandmother was actually very good at business, she started her fashion label when she got left on a doorstep with a small child, being one of the first women to get divorced. She single handedly built up her own business which then led to 4 stores around the globe. In 1907 she was one of the richest women in the world - where you think that was not very good at business I am not quite sure, especially in the early 1900s where it was tough for a women to be in business. She actually died of breast cancer which she had suffered from for quite some time. She was a marketing pioneer and is famous for it."

I apologized to Ms. Blois for my original quote in my post.

Indeed her grandmother was a BRILLIANT business woman. After researching and researching for days in regards to all this Lady Duff mystery, I honestly think my brain was not in gear. Again, Ms. Blois, my deepest apologies.

Please stay tuned for more information to follow on "Lady Duff" garments.

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