Octavia Dugan, Cross Keys boutique owner

Founder of Octavia, the Village of Cross Keys fashion house, selected the clothes worn by her well-tailored customers

  • Octavia Dugan at Furs by Octavia in 2005.
Octavia Dugan at Furs by Octavia in 2005. (KENNETH K. LAM, Baltimore…)
September 09, 2014|By Jacques Kelly, The Baltimore Sun

Octavia Dugan, who founded a Village of Cross Keys boutique and was considered an arbiter of traditional fashion, died in her sleep of undetermined causes Saturday at Palm City Nursing Home in Palm City, Fla. The former Cromwell Valley resident was 98.

Born Octavia Whelan Chatard in Baltimore and raised on Calvert Street, she was the daughter of Dr. J. Albert Chatard, a physician, and Alice Whelan, a homemaker. She attended the Baltimore Academy of the Visitation and Notre Dame Preparatory School, where she graduated in 1934. She appeared that year as Lady Baltimore in the Maryland Tercentenary Pageant, an event that celebrated the 300th anniversary of the Maryland colony, at the old Baltimore Stadium.

In 1935, Archbishop Michael J. Curley officiated at her wedding to Dr. Hammond J. Dugan, a physician, at St. Ignatius Roman Catholic Church. News articles described the wedding and the many social events that surrounded it.

Family members said Mrs. Dugan and her family lived in a Roland Park home on Hawthorn Road that they called Blue Shutters. It was near a women's clothing shop on Cold Spring Lane owned by her cousin, Helen Dugan Boyce. Mrs. Dugan sold clothing at the shop for about a decade.

When the village square, the retail portion of the Village of Cross Keys, was being planned, Mrs. Dugan decided to open her own business.

"It was her initial intention that her shop would be small and she would have a part-time seamstress," said her daughter, Frances Markoe Dugan of Stuart, Fla. "That lasted about a day."

According to a 1990 Baltimore Sun profile of Mrs. Dugan, her shop opened Aug. 15, 1965.

"I was the first door to open," she recalled, adding that her customers had to step across temporary planks laid on muddy ground to reach her shop stocked with just "20 dresses, 50 suits and 10 coats." She named her business Octavia.

"The shop really took off," her daughter said. "There were days when she would get on the night train to New York, buy clothes in the morning, mark the prices on the way back and have them in stock the next day."

A Sun article, written 25 years after the shop opened, said, "Dugan's shop, Octavia, is an upscale women's clothing store with 40 employees and a reputation for carrying some of the most elegant clothes in Baltimore."

Mrs. Dugan recalled that her customers appreciated — and preserved — her classic tailored suits. "It's amazing how people have kept these clothes," Mrs. Dugan said of the clothes she sold.

Betty Cooke, the jewelry designer whose The Store Ltd. opened the same month as Mrs. Dugan's shop, recalled her.

"She was an elegant, fun lady. She was generous and full of energy and drive. It showed in her store, too," said Ms. Cooke, who works alongside her husband, William Steinmetz, at the Cross Keys shop they founded. "She was tall and stately, and had quite an influence on Cross Keys in its early days. She set the tone there because she was so highly admired and respected. People came here because of her."

A 2005 Sun article said, "It was 1965 when Octavia Dugan, a local beauty with an eye for fashion, opened her elegant store ... an instant hit among Baltimore's fashionable moneyed set, women like Dugan, then nearing her 50s, who wanted a local place to buy classic suits and tailored ensembles for daytime wear and sophisticated dresses for the evenings."

Ruth Shaw, who also founded a fashion boutique at Cross Keys, remembered Mrs. Dugan: "She knew her customers, and she was a wonderful businesswoman. She herself was old-line Roland Park, and she had good things in her shop. The taste was conservative. Her customers bought an outfit, a suit consisting of a jacket, skirt and a blouse. They never separated."

Ms. Shaw recalled that within the fashion industry, "Octavia was highly respected. In the market, they had nothing but good things to say about her."

Mrs. Dugan staged fashion shows for charity.

"She was quite a sports enthusiast and when the Orioles won the pennant in 1966, she used that theme in her shows," said Betty Davis, who worked alongside her for many years and designed her windows and advertising. "She would develop a style each season to be absolutely up to date. She bespoke her profession. She didn't like clothes that would 'just do.' She felt you had to 'do it right.' Her success in business was her assuredness to invest in the best."

Mrs. Dugan worked closely for decades with a core group of women — Mrs. Davis; Mrs. Davis' sister, Peggy Strott; Diane Lee; and Adele Russell. Her alterations room employed five seamstresses.

"She treated us like her own sisters," Mrs. Davis said.

After living on Cromwell Bridge Road for many years and retiring nearly 25 years ago, Mrs. Dugan moved to St. Elizabeth's Hall on the grounds of Stella Maris Hospice in Timonium. She became a leader and volunteered to drive a van to take retired residents to doctor's appointments and grocery stores. She was a member of Cor Christi at Immaculate Conception Church.

A memorial Mass will be held at noon Nov. 8 at St. Ignatius Roman Catholic Church, 740 N. Calvert St.

In addition to her daughter, survivors include a son, Dr. Hammond J. Dugan III of Stuart, Fla.; a brother, J. Albert Chatard Jr. of Timonium; five grandchildren; and eight great-grandchildren. Her husband of 54 years died in 1989. A son, Albert Chatard Dugan, died in 1991.


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