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Children's Nonfiction Historical

Unsinkable Lucile

How a Farm Girl Became the Queen of Fashion and Survived the Titanic

by (author) Hugh Brewster

illustrated by Laurie McGaw

Firefly Books
Initial publish date
Sep 2022
Historical, Women
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Sep 2022
    List Price

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Recommended Age, Grade, and Reading Levels

  • Age: 9 to 12
  • Grade: 4 to 7


Before Chanel there was Lucile.

She was one of the world's most glamorous women and the most famous fashionista of the Edwardian age. Yet, couturiere Lucile, Lady Duff Gordon was born as just plain Lucy Sutherland and grew up in a stone farmhouse in Ontario, Canada. How she went from a backwoods farm to presiding over an international fashion empire is a remarkable story of unshakeable determination and female achievement at a time when it was thought that a woman's place was in the home.

Unsinkable Lucile is a lavishly illustrated story of Lucile's lively childhood, her rise to the top of the fashion world and her survival of the Titanic disaster and its aftermath, during which she was unjustly vilified. Time and time again, she proved that nothing could sink her spirits or stop her drive to innovate and create.

Among Lucile's many innovations were the first fashion shows, the first fashion models and the Edwardian craze for oversized hats. She also helped free women from the corset and coined the word "chic." Lucile was also a fashion adviser to millions and the creator of clothes seen in over 115 movies.

Replete with historical photos and beautiful paintings by award-winning illustrator Laurie McGaw, Unsinkable Lucile is a humorous, touching and empowering tale of a woman who beat the odds, never backed down and changed the world of fashion forever.

About the authors

HUGH BREWSTER has twenty-five years of experience creating books about the Titanic as an editor, publisher and writer. He worked with Robert D. Ballard to produce the 1987 international bestseller The Discovery of the Titanic and oversaw the creation of Titanic: An Illustrated History, a book that provided inspiration for James Cameron’s epic movie. Brewster is also the author of Inside the Titanic, 882 1/2 Amazing Answers to Your Questions about the Titanic and Deadly Voyage, and has written twelve award-winning books for young readers, including Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose, a 2007 Governor General’s Award nominee. He lives in Toronto. Visit him online at or follow him on Twitter @hughbrewster.

Hugh Brewster's profile page

Laurie McGaw's profile page

Editorial Reviews

Employing novelistic flare and ample quotations, Brewster captures the life of 19th-century fashion designer Lucy Duff Gordon (1863-1935) in this text-heavy biography. Organized into chapter-like sections that provide snapshots of Gordon's life from a particular time and place, the book starts with her childhood in rural Canada before segueing to life in Britain, marriage, and post-divorce triumph: an international fashion empire, the popularization of elegant undergarments, and the innovative use of models and fashion shows. Drama appears briefly with wrenching descriptions of Gordon's escape from the Titanic on a tragically half-empty lifeboat, but the chronicle is largely one of business savvy. McGaw's realistic paintings mingle with historical photographs and evoke the spirit of the age, allowing readers a glimpse of both the subject's life and the era. A brief glossary concludes.

Publisher's Weekly

Unsinkable Lucile is a refreshing departure from the standard children's book. It's the true story of Lucile, Lady Duff Gordon, the fashion designer who survived the sinking of the Titanic... The book is broken down into very short, informative chapters, and the writing is easy to follow. It describes how it was that Lucile came to be a clothing designer, and even to create the modern fashion show. It's the kind of book that will surely make young readers want to learn more... This is indeed a children's book I would highly recommend.

The Titanic Commutator

A tribute to one of the previous century's most renowned and innovative fashion designers. Dubbed "Unsinkable" by Brewster for the same reasons Molly Brown was--rising from relatively humble origins to stylish celebrity and then surviving the sinking of the Titanic--Lucy, Lady Duff-Gordon (to use her final married name), not only became a celebrated belle epoque dressmaker in France, Great Britain, and the United States, but is credited with inventing both tinted undergarments to go with her filmier tea dresses and high-society gowns and also runway-style fashion shows with live models. (She also sparked a pre-First World War furor for "Crazy Big Hats.") Following an isolated glimpse of her as a child living with her strict grandparents near Guelph, Ontario (after her father's death, the family relocated from England), the author skips ahead through high spots and notable incidents in her career to the Titanic disaster (she and her husband were unjustly stigmatized afterward because of rumors that they had bribed their way aboard a lifeboat), later struggles, and death in 1935. The generous mix of newly colorized period photos and McGaw's formally composed scenes of shows, dances, and other events offer enough examples of her work to impart a clear idea of their characteristic lines and looks. People depicted present as White. Stylish and significant.


Features the incredible story of how Lucy Sutherland, born on a backwoods Ontario farm, became one of the world's most glamorous women and the most famous fashionista of the Edwardian age.

Quill and Quire

Featuring historical photos and beautiful paintings by artist and illustrator Laurie McGaw, Unsinkable Lucile is a humorous, touching, empowering, and informative picture story by Hugh Brewster of a woman who beat the odds, never backed down and changed the world of fashion forever... Recommended as a prized addition to family, elementary school, middle school, and community library picture book biography collections for children ages 9-12.

Midwest Book Review

An impressively illustrated book... A fascinating, easy-to-read true story that will invite its audience to explore an intriguing era of the past. Highly Recommended.

Canadian Review of Materials

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