Designer Norman Hartnell

Norman Hartnell, founder of the acclaimed brand, Hartnell’s, was a leading British designer known most widely for his work with the Royal Family, in particular Queen Elizabeth and the Queen mother.

In 1947, Hartnell designed the then-Princess Elizabeth’s wedding dress. Post-war rationing was still in place back then, and Princess Elizabeth famously had to save up coupons in order to be able to purchase it. The gown (which was recreated in the very first episode of The Crown), was seen by people all around the globe.

Queen Elizabeth’s wedding dress was a triumph in Hartnell’s career as well as the Coronation dress she wore at Westminster abbey on the 2nd of June 1953.

Queen Elizabeth’s Coronation 2nd June 1953 wearing a specially made Hartnell gown.
The Coronation gown, which was hand embroidered with 10,000 seed pearls and thousands of white crystal beads, all meticulously arranged to render emblems of the Commonwealth, is widely regarded today as a centerpiece in the history of ceremonial dress.

In 1960, Princess Margaret married the future Lord Snowden. (As fans of The Crown know, her engagement to the British photographer happened after she found out her former fiancé, Group Captain Townsend, was getting married to someone else.) And while Hartnell employed his signature ballgown silhouette when it came to designing this wedding gown, it differed markedly from his other earlier designs. The long-sleeved dress featured a tight bodice, deep V-shaped neckline, and a far more voluminous skirt than had been used for Queen Elizabeth’s wedding gown. But when compared to his more ornate works, it reads as relatively unembellished; a sign of the times, perhaps, but also a nod to Princess Margaret’s more modern style.

Princess Margaret in Normal Hartnell’s creation for her wedding to the future Lord Snowdon

Hartnell combined flamboyant flair with the dignity and assurance of traditional British style. The designer who famously quipped, “I despise simplicity. It is the negation of all that is beautiful” was known for his opulent yet elegant designs, lavishly adorned embroidery, and use of intricate details. His repertoire of clients included Hollywood starlets, socialites, princesses and queens, all of whom were drawn to the glamour and palatial pomp exuded by his designs.

The queen’s coronation parade in which she picked out the gown which would later be worn.

He began his career designing for the Cambridge Dramatic Society an after leaving the University without a degree his set up his Boutique in 1923 on Bruton Street in Mayfair before coming the official dressmaker and couturier to the Queen.

The Queen Mother knighted Hartnell in 1977 for his services to the Royal Household. He became known as ‘The First Fashion Knight’, and was one of only four British designers to ever have been knighted; Norman Hartnell, Hardy Amies, Paul Smith and Vivienne Westwood.

No other designer in the history of British Couture captivated London society the way Norman Hartnell did. Hartnell had a remarkable ability to create expressive designs, which both enhanced the individuality of the wearer, and sparked the imagination of the viewer.

Contemporaries such as Chanel and Christian Dior regarded him as a design inspiration. The British couturier was also the favourite designer of stage and screen stars Vivien Leigh and Marlene Dietrich, who were drawn to his Bruton Street salon.

Hartnell’s love for spectacle also found expression in his opulent wedding dresses. He was praised for his ability to create ethereal and romantic gowns which elevated character and body type. Brides from both sides of the Atlantic clamoured to have their gowns created by the designer.

When the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester married in 1935, Hartnell designed both the Duchesses’ pearl pink satin wedding dress, and the dresses for her bridesmaids, Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret. This marked the beginning of his long and illustrious relationship with the Royal Family.

Hartnell was instrumental in helping the Queen Mother craft a sense of romanticism in her style. She became such an avid fan of Hartnell that she insisted he design bridal gowns for both her daughters, Princess Elizabeth in 1947, and Princess Margaret in 1960. Hartnell claimed that his ivory silk, crystal and seed pearl embroidered gown for Princess Elizabeth was “the most beautiful dress” he had made to date. The 13- foot-long star-patterned train was inspired by Botticelli’s Primavera, and captured the imagination of a stricken post-war Britain in search of escapism.

We currently have in stock our very own Hartnell dress which is a delight for our team to see and get their hands on but we have now added this as a listing to our Etsy site and hope to get it on to its new forever home.

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