By Karen Harper
They rose from genteel poverty, two beautiful sisters, ambitious, witty, seductive. Elinor and Lucy Sutherland are at once each other’s fiercest supporters and most vicious critics.
Lucy transformed herself into Lucile, the daring fashion designer who revolutionized the industry with her flirtatious gowns and brazen self-promotion. And when she married Sir Cosmo Duff-Gordon her life seemed to be a fairy tale. But success came at many costs-to her marriage and to her children…and then came the fateful night of April 14, 1912 and the scandal that followed.
Elinor’s novels titillate readers, and it’s even asked in polite drawing rooms if you would like to “sin with Elinor Glyn?” Her work pushes the boundaries of what’s acceptable; her foray into the glittering new world of Hollywood turns her into a world-wide phenomenon. But although she writes of passion, the true love she longs for eludes her.
But despite quarrels and misunderstandings, distance and destiny, there is no bond stronger than that of the two sisters-confidants, friends, rivals and the two “It Girls” of their day.
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THE AMAZING SUTHERLAND SISTERS
In the late Victorian and early Edwardian eras, two very different British sisters overcame poverty and obscurity to carve pioneering paths through the restrictive rules and rigid regulations of society. Both worked their way to fame and fortune in an age in which being divorced, going into trade on
one’s own, especially for women with strict upbringing and some aristocratic ties, was strictly taboo. I was thrilled to find such amazing women and make them my heroines in The It Girls.
Both Lucile and Elinor Sutherland were career women in an age in which the only proper career was marriage and motherhood. When the eras they knew best were over, they shifted gears and sped into the Roaring 20s. Elinor eventually wrote for the silent movies in Hollywood and hobnobbed with early film stars. After an international fashion career, Lucile designed for the common woman in the Sears Catalogue. Yet these sisters, reared in the wilds of Canada and then on the backwater Isle of Jersey, were not common for their time.
Lucile Sutherland, later Lady Duff-Gordon, (1862 – 1934,) was rebellious, charming, determined and outgoing. When her husband deserted her and her daughter to run off with a “pantomime girl,” Lucile began to design, cut and sew fabulous fashions on her dining room table. She forged a path for women designers, which was then strictly the realm of men. She dressed the rich, famous and royal and fought for innovative changes.
In her 1932 autobiography Discretions and Indiscretions, Lucile relates an incident when she was fitting a gown in her shop for Mary, Duchess of York, wife of George, Duke of York, later King George V. Lucile spilled pins all over the floor, and the duke knelt in front of her to help pick them up. Ah, a future king kneeling before her!
Lucile forged the way to get women out of corsets and boldly put side slits in long skirts so women would not have to take little steps. She certainly was taking big ones! She was one of the first to design silky, lacy lingerie instead of stiff linen or cotton pantaloons and petticoats. She weathered the “immoral woman” accusations (mostly from “moral” married men) because woman dared to love her light-weight, fancy but racy designs.
Lucile first used fashion shows with live “mannequins”/models, rather than showing her costumes on stuffed, faceless dummies. She personally recruited tall, slender woman, even raiding salesgirls from Harrod’s. She called these women her ‘goddesses,’ gave them romantic names and taught them social graces.
New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Karen Harper is a former university (Ohio State) and high school English teacher. Published since 1982, she writes contemporary suspense and historical novels about real British women. She is the author of The Royal Nanny, and several Tudor era books that have been bestsellers in the UK and Russia. A rabid Anglophile, she likes nothing more than to research her novels on site in the British Isles. Harper won the Mary Higgins Clark Award for Dark Angel, and her novel Shattered Secrets was judged one of the Best Books of 2014 by Suspense Magazine. The author and her husband live in Ohio and love to travel.
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