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Sir Norman Hartnell (June 12, 1901 – June 8, 1979)

Sir Norman Bishop Hartnell, KCVO (12 June 1901, London – 8 June 1979, Windsor) was a British fashion designer. Hartnell had the Royal Warrant as Dressmaker to the Queen in 1940, subsequently Royal Warrant as Dressmaker to Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother; and Royal Warrant as Dressmaker to Queen Elizabeth II in 1957. Initially discreet about his homosexuality, another famous fashion designer of the time, Sir Edwin Hardy Amies, became more candid in his old age; and, when speaking of Sir Norman Hartnell, he commented: "It's quite simple. He was a silly old queen and I'm a clever old queen". (Picture: Sir Norman Hartnell by Allan Warren)

Hartnell was born to an upwardly mobile family in the southwest London suburb of Streatham. His parents were publicans and owners of the Crown & Sceptre, a large coaching inn at the top of Streatham Hill. The young Hartnell attended Mill Hill School, and read Modern Languages at Magdalene College, Cambridge; he left Cambridge without a degree. More interested in performing, and designing productions for the university Footlights, Hartnell was noticed by the London press as the designer of a Footlights production which transferred to the Daly's Theatre in London. Having unsuccessfully worked for two London designers, including Lucy, Lady Duff-Gordon (whom he sued for copying his designs without giving credit), he opened his own business at 10 Bruton Street, Mayfair in 1923 with the help of his father and sister Phyllis.

Throughout the 1950s and 1960s the name of Norman Hartnell was continually found in the press. He was always available for publicity events, whether they involved making a dress of pound notes or creating sensational, evening dresses for celebrities such as the pianist Eileen Joyce or the TV cookery star Fanny Cradock. All the female members of the Royal Family used Hartnell's skills at one time or another, not only for personal wear within the United Kingdom, but also for their own visits abroad. Hartnell fashion shows travelled the UK and were shown on publicised trips abroad.


The Flapper Girl: Evening Gown by Norman Hartnell, 1924


Elizabeth II’s coronation gown


Norman Hartnell dresses for Queen Elizabeth.


Evening dress, 1953
Beaded, silk "crinoline" evening gowns became Norman Hartnell's hallmark. He was at the peak of his career in the mid1950s, when he designed this dress. Featuring a flamboyant, beaded pink flower over each breast, it would have been considered rather daring at the time.
Norman Hartnell wrote in his autobiography, "I despise simplicity. It is the negation of all that is beautiful."
Worn by Lilli Palmer and given by her sister Mrs Hilde J. Ross. Mrs Ross comments that this dress, "made by Norman Hartnell, for some function in connection with the coronation, was made in 1953". Lilli Palmer was an actress, and a tiny size 6.


The Flowers of the Fields of France, Spring/summer 1957
Lavish gold and white beadwork encrusts this ivory evening dress worn by Queen Elizabeth II on a state visit to Paris in 1957. The dazzling, jewel-like details of the embroidered design include miniature bees, grasses, wheat and wild flowers. These motifs are worked in relief in faceted glass, gold beads, brilliants and variously shaped pearls, mother-of-pearl and gold petals. It also features an extravagant back bow. The design of this single-occasion gown diplomatically refers to French motifs, including the flowers of France and large gold bees, the emblem of Napoleon. It was intended to both compliment the French nation and draw attention to the Queen.
This splendid state gown with an extravagant back bow was designed for the Queen's state visit to Paris, April 8-11th 1957. The design diplomatically makes reference to French motifs, including the "Flowers of the Fields of France" (such as daisies and crossed wheat sheaves) and Napoleonic bees.
It was worn to the state dinner on the first night (Monday 8th April), hosted by President René Coty at the Elysée Palace, followed by a visit to the Opéra to see a ballet by Lifar from The Diaries of Cynthia Jebb.
The dress was worn with a necklace (of 4 stones with centre drop jewel) and small earrings, a tiara, and long white evening gloves adorned with a bracelet (or small watch) on the left wrist. The Queen also wore the jewelled Badge of the Legion d'Honneur and sash from her right shoulder to her waist (left). She also carried a small white handbag and wore a white fur stole for travelling.
The dress was displayed at Kensington Palace in 2006-7. Research conducted by Kensington Palace included an interview with Maureen Markham, one of the embroiderers who worked on the dress. She recalled that they worked with blacked-out windows to avoid the Press and that she hoped the Queen would have nice plush cushions to sit on so as not to crush the embroidery.
The Queen wore this dress again to the Opera in the early 1960s.


Norman Hartnell dresses for Queen Elizabeth.


Norman Hartnell dresses for Queen Elizabeth.


Norman Hartnell dresses for Queen Elizabeth.


Norman Hartnell dresses for Queen Elizabeth.


Norman Hartnell dresses for Queen Elizabeth.


Norman Hartnell dresses for Queen Elizabeth.


Wedding dress, 1933
Wedding dress outfit consisting of an embroidered silk satin dress and tulle veil. Worn by Margaret Whigham, later the Duchess of Argyll, for her marriage to Mr Charles Sweeny in the Brompton Oratory, 21 February 1933. The dress took a team of 30 seamstresses six weeks to make, and the bride thought it shockingly expensive at £52. The veil (T.306-1978) was donated a few years later, in 1978, and is catalogued with the dress (T.836-1974).
Margaret Whigham was the only child of Helen Mann Hannay and George Hay Whigham, a Scottish millionaire who was chairman of the Celanese Corporation of England, North America, and Canada. After being educated privately in New York City, where she moved one week after her birth and lived until the age of 14, and making her debut in London in 1930, she announced her engagement to Charles Guy Fulke Greville, 7th Earl of Warwick. This wedding did not take place as she had fallen for Charles Sweeny, an American amateur golfer, and decided she was not sufficiently in love with Lord Warwick. Margaret and Charles Sweeny divorced in 1947, and in 1951, she became the notorious Duchess of Argyll, third wife of the 11th Duke of Argyll.



Wedding dress, 1951
This wedding gown was created by the leading London couturier, Norman Hartnell. His workshops excelled in creating the rich embroideries which typify the designer's work. The pearl and silver embroidery bordering the deep V-neck of the dress is reflected in the sweeping band of embroidery on the skirt. To retain the line, the skirt is lined with buckram and weighted around the hem. Further support is provided by a stiffened petticoat.
Wedding dresses were often altered to become evening wear but fortunately this design survived intact. It was worn by Hermione Wills when she married Mervin Evans on 23 July 1951. The bride's mother, Mrs. Cecil Wills, was a good friend of Hartnell, and later became one of the directors of his fashion house.
Worn by the donor, then Miss Hermione Wills at her marriage to Merfyn Evans at St. Marks, N Audley Street on 23 July 1951. Her mother, Mrs Cecil Wills was an early friend and later a director of Norman Hartnell.
The dress was specially designed by Hartnell for the bride. The embroidery and decoration on the front of the dress includes a bare spot of fabric between the bands of ornament on the neckline and skirt. This was designed specifically for a diamond brooch which is visible in the wedding photographs. When worn, the brooch connected the sweeping bands of embroidery and created an unbroken curve of sparkling ornamentation around the neckline and skirt.
Hermione Wills met Merfyn Evans during a round-the-world voyage. He was the chief officer of a cargo boat called The Javanese Prince, and she was a paying passenger. They became engaged within 48 hours of their meeting. Sadly, Merfyn died a few years after the wedding. His widow remarried an Army man, Mr. Ball, and they lived in Malaysia. She wore a deep blue lace, long-sleeved, mid-calf length cocktail dress (also by Norman Hartnell) for the second wedding with a matching coat. The going-away costume, by Hartnell, was cafe-au-lait silk woven with velvet wavy-lines, with a darker cafe-au-lait coat.


Evening dress, 1953
The designs of Norman Hartnell for Queen Elizabeth (later the Queen Mother) are among his best known. He first met Elizabeth in 1935, and continued making clothes for her until his death in 1979. Among the many beautiful state gowns was this 1953 gown in ivory satin, featuring Hartnell's trademark of intricately detailed beading in a design of blue flowers. The skirt spreads out over a bell-shaped crinoline, a look which Hartnell first designed for Elizabeth in 1937, and which became her traditional evening look.
In 1937, the new king, George VI asked Hartnell to create a new regal wardrobe for his wife. Hartnell's gowns included crinolines inspired by 1860s portraits of European royalty such as Elizabeth, Empress of Austria and the Empress Eugenie of France. This romantic, beautifully detailed and feminine look perfectly suited Queen Elizabeth and defined the style of clothing that she would wear as a key member of the British Royal Family.
Worn by her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother.


Evening dress, ca. 1948
Norman Hartnell opened his couture salon on Bruton Street in Mayfair in 1923. From 1938 he became a royal dressmaker. Hartnell was known for creating full-skirted evening dresses, often with elaborate embroidery. He designed for women in high society who required elaborate wardrobes for a variety of social occasions.
This romantic haute couture or made-to-measure evening dress was intended for a formal occasion. The dress is created from multiple layers of tulle embroidered with sequins. Its soft, voluminous skirt, scattering of floral-shaped sequins and delicate bolero jacket suggest a romantic view of women’s fashion.


Cocktail dress, early 1950s
Norman Hartnell was best known as the couturier to the British royal family. Throughout the late 1940s and 1950s he designed a wide range of clothes that Princess Margaret wore for her official duties. This evening dress is made in a heavy black ribbed silk called grosgrain. It shows the Princess's taste for uncluttered simple lines with the minimum of decoration. Here just the shoulder straps are embroidered with silvered beads and diamantés. The skirt is the most important feature. It is constructed in ten panels and finished with bold scallops at the hem. The heavy weight and density of the fabric holds the flared shape of the skirt and its wave-like folds.
Hartnell designed an elegant black evening dress for Princess Margaret in the early 1950s, made in ottoman silk with a fitted bodice and full skirt that has a scalloped hemline. Apart from mourning dress, it was unusual for the royal family to wear black. As Hartnell observed: 'As a rule, ladies of the Royal Family wear light coloured clothes because such colours are more discernible against a great crowd, most of which will be wearing dark everyday colours.' Princess Margaret gave this dress to the V&A in 1986.


Day dress, 1942-1945
Norman Hartnell designed this dress during World War 2 under strict rationing guidelines. He economised in the amount of trimmings, creating a neat and simple design. The Utility symbol (CC41) was stitched onto the lining to show that it met Government regulations. This stylised motif was known as 'the cheeses' as it resembled two cheeses with a portion cut out.


Evening dress, ca. 1933
Throughout the 1930s Hartnell designed stage clothes for leading actresses, including Gertrude Lawrence, Evelyn Laye and Gladys Cooper. In his autobiography, Silver and Gold (1955), he summed up his position in 1934: 'The well-dressed women of society flocked to my dress parades and . . . bought generously, and the Press was proving both amiable and encouraging'. The turning-point in his career came in 1935, when Lady Alice Montague Douglas-Scott asked him to design the wedding dress for her marriage to the Duke of Gloucester. Royalty was then added to his already impressive list of customers and his business flourished. Hartnell is best known for his intricately embroidered dresses for grand occasions, especially those made for Queen Elizabeth II and the Queen Mother in the 1950s. This earlier and more modest evening dress is bias-cut, and the design skilfully contrasts ruffled sleeves with knife-pleated godets and a perfectly plain bodice.


Dress and coat, 1958
Hundreds of tiny pin-tucks cover the entire surface of both dress and coat in this blue-green silk ensemble by Hartnell. The detail around the top of the outfit shows how the garment is formed from interwoven strips of silk in a simple basket weave, a play upon the construction of woven fabric which is further emphasised by the patterning of the narrow tucks.


Dress and jacket, 1955
Evening dress and jacket of pale pink and pale eau-de-nil satin, pale pink velvet, and with embroidery of diamantes, beads and sequins.
Commissioned and worn by the donor, Mrs Lee Landau (Christian name Millicent), for her son's wedding in the mid-1950s.


Evening ensemble, 1965-1970
Heavy green silk evening dress with diamanté and paste beading in harlequin check layout across bodice, matching full length coat with dyed fox fur cuffs. Shoes covered to match dress with paste beads on vamp
Worn by the donor's mother in law, Mrs E.D. Guiness, who lived with Norman Hartnell and was a close personal friend of his. He made all her clothes, although she rarely wore the evening gowns


Hartnell's design for the wedding dress of HRH Princess Margaret in 1960 marked the last full State occasion for which he designed an impressive tableau of dresses for his many Royal clients. It also marked the swan-song of lavish British couture. The bride wore a multi-layered white Princess line dress, totally unadorned, but demanding in its construction, utilising many layers of fine silk, and requiring as much skill as the complexities of the Coronation Dress, which it echoed in outline. The Queen wore a long blue dress of similar design with a slight bolero jacket and a hat adorned with a single rose reminding everyone of the Princess's name, used in full only when she was a girl, Margaret Rose. Victor Stiebel made the going-away clothes for The Princess and the whole wedding and departure of the couple from the Pool of London on HMY Britannia received worldwide press and television publicity; the design of the wedding dress had clear references to the Coronation Dress of the Queen worn in the same building only seven years previously.

Fashion rapidly changed in the 1960s and by the time of the Investiture of The Prince of Wales in 1969 the Hartnell clothes worn by The Queen and Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother were short day clothes ingeniously reflecting their own styles. Royal clothes designed by Hartnell created a style for each client and the style was made fashionable without being a high fashion statement. This exemplified his genius and was practised to a sophisticated level, as he became increasingly pre-occupied with the large number of royal orders, many worn for Tours and State Visits. In this he was helped by Ian Thomas, who left to create his own business, and the Japanese designer Yuki (Gnyuki Tormimaru), who similarly left to create his own highly successful business.

At the time of the Queen's Silver Jubilee in 1977, Hartnell was appointed KCVO. On arriving at Buckingham Palace to receive the honour, he was delighted to find that The Queen had arranged for it to be given by Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother, a loyal client of Hartnell beyond his death and until the House closed. Hartnell was termed by the press The First Fashion Knight. Only the late Sir Hardy Amies was similarly honoured and it is unlikely that we shall witness another in this reign.

Hartnell was still designing collections at his death in 1979. Although much quieter, the enormous House also sold ready-to-wear, introduced in the 1950s, and was the source of merchandising,the many products ranging from scent to stockings, bags to costume jewellery and Hartnell mens-wear – also found in stores around the globe. His career truly began around 1920 up at Cambridge and so spanned six decades. It is unlikely that there will ever be such a House in London again, employing at its peak in the 1950s some 550 people in-house and many thousands more employed in allied ancillary trades.

Hartnell was buried on 15 June 1979 next to his mother and sister in the graveyard of Clayton church, West Sussex.

A large memorial service in London was led by the then Bishop of Southwark, Mervyn Stockwood, a friend, and was attended by many clients including one of his earliest from the 1920s, his lifelong supporter Barbara Cartland and from the 1930s the former Margaret Whigham, whose marriage in a Hartnell dress stopped the traffic in Knightsbridge, when she became Mrs Charles Sweeny, latterly still a client as Margaret, Duchess of Argyll. The service brought together not only former clients, but a large number of his models and employees.

The business continued after Hartnell's death, the Queen Mother remaining a loyal client with many others. For a short time John Tullis, a nephew of Molyneux, designed for the Hartnell business. A consortium headed by Manny Silverman, formerly of Moss Bros., acquired the business and after some guest collections designed by Gina Fratini and Murray Arbeid, the building was renovated under the direction of Michael Pick and the original art moderne splendours designed by Gerald Lacoste for Norman Hartnell were brought to life, the famous glass chimney-piece retrieved from the V&A as the focal point of the grand mirrored salon. The House re-opened with an acclaimed collection designed by Marc Bohan. The Gulf War and subsequent recession of the early 1990s killed the venture and the House closed its doors in 1992.

On 11 May 2005, the Norman Hartnell premises and his rare British genius were commemorated with a blue plaque at 26 Bruton Street, Mayfair, London, W1, where he spent his working life from 1934 to 1979.

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norman_Hartnell

Further Readings:

Be Dazzled!: Norman Hartnell Sixty Years of Glamour & Flash by Michael Pick
Hardcover: 272 pages
Publisher: Pointed Leaf Press (February 16, 2012)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0983388938
ISBN-13: 978-0983388937
Amazon: Be Dazzled!: Norman Hartnell Sixty Years of Glamour & Flash

Norman Hartnell (1901-1979) was a uniquely British genius. For nearly sixty years he was a major personality in the world of fashion. By the mid 1930s, Hartnell's meteoric rise to fame resulted in London becoming a centre of style that closely rivalled Paris. Known for glamorous evening clothes, Hartnell augmented his early design successes by creating a series of stunning wedding dresses for his younger society clientele. His bridal extravaganzas culminated in the romantic 1947 wedding of Princess Elizabeth to Prince Philip. While Hartnell clients included members of the English upper class as well as the best-known stage and film actresses of the time, it was his royal patronage that assured him a place in history. The famous White Wardrobe created for Queen Elizabeth (and photographed by Cecil Beaton) in the late 1930s changed her image forever; the extraordinary coronation robes designed for Elizabeth II in 1953; and the sublimely simple wedding dress he made for Princess Margaret.

More Fashion Designers at my website: http://www.elisarolle.com/, My Ramblings/Art


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