Friday, 20 November 2009

Norman Hartnell: Royal Couturier

Norman Hartnell: Royal Couturier

OK, so this started as blog about the Queen's wedding dress (she was married on November 20th 1947) but it got a bit out of hand.....


Norman Hartnell is probably the most well-known of the English couturiers of the 40s and 50s due to his work for The Queen. He was the first to set up in London as a couturier in the Parisian sense, as opposed to a court dressmaker, in 1923. His early clients included Gertrude Lawrence, Marlene Dietrich and many other stars of stage and screen as well as the social set. From the beginning he was known for elaborately embroidered evening gowns, though his sister, Phyllis, insisted on day wear to supplement his income. By 1934 after much hard work he moved to larger premisses at 26 Bruton Street and bought a country home at Lovel Dene near Windsor.


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His first royal commission was in 1935 when he was asked to design the wedding dress of Lady Alice Montagu-Dougal-Scott who married the Duke of Gloucester, and the dresses of her bridesmaids who included The Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret Rose. He also designed the dresses for the maids of honour at the 1937 coronation. However, his most famous pre-war collection was for Queen Elizabeth (the late Queen Mother) on her state visit to France in 1938. Her mother had recently died so her entire wardrobe which Hartnell had already made was re-executed in white.


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During World War 2 Hartnell joined the Home Guard and continued to design (within the restrictions) for private clients as well as working on collections for export to raise much needed income for the war effort. Most importantly he designed a range of ready to wear for Berketex an arrangement that continued into the 1950s.

In 1947 he was asked to submit designs for Princess Elizabeth's wedding dress, this event set for November 20th was considered to be a much needed boost to public morale, and the press were talking about the event for months ahead.
The engagement had been announced in July.





The dress was made of ivory silk satin and encrusted with elaborate embroidery, pearls and crystals in the form of orange blossom, ears of wheat and roses inspired by a Botticelli. 10,000 seed pearls were ordered from America, Chinese silk, woven in Dunfermline, was used for the dress and English silk from Lullingstone Castle was used for the 13 foot train. Matching sandals were made by Rayne.


A postcard of the Princess in her wedding dress.




The shoes by Rayne. I've blogged about them here

In the late 40s with both young princesses as clients he attracted a new generation to wear his romantic gowns. The coronation in 1953 was another embroidery masterpiece with the emblems of Britain and the Commonwealth gathered into a beautiful bouquet.


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Hartnell continued to design for The Queen up until his death in 1979. Other high points being the Flowers of the Fields of France gown for the 1957 state visit to France, the wardrobe created for the Commonwealth tour of 1964 and Princess Margaret's wedding gown in 1960. At the peak of Hartnell's business in the 1950s he employed over 500 people.


Flowers of the Fields of France 1957


Princess Margaret's Wedding Dress. Click for bigger picture


Turquoise silk gown worn by the Queen to her sister's wedding.

Hartnell designed clothes for films too, starting in 1930 and continuing throughout the war. This charming short was made in 1946 and shows the interior of his salon and some of his designs in a parade.

Fashion Fantasy 1946 (Part 2)



If you want to watch Part 1 go here only 2 short extracts have been published on Youtube.