Britain

The Designer Diaries – Norman Hartnell:Part 1

Featured Image: The Daily Mail

A quick overview of the man to get us all acquainted: As any good fashion observer knows, Sir Norman Hartnell (June 12th 1901- June 8th 1979) was one of the great designers of his time. As a Hollywood costume designer he dressed film stars like Elizabeth Taylor, Katharine Hepburn, and Vivien Leigh. That had all of the socialites hot after his designs, and that path ultimately lead to royalty, British Royalty, to be exact. Due to his elite clientele, his belief that “fast fashion” (His Ready To Wear line was called “Le Petit Salon”) wasn’t necessarily bad fashion, and his many patterns for the at home seamstress, his designs would become famous the world over. (Plus he designed shoes, hats, pantyhose, perfume, nurses uniforms, uniforms for Scotland Yard…you name it, he seems to have a hand in it!)

The royal family’s first exposure to the designer came via Lady Alice Christabel Montagu Douglas Scott, the future Duchess of Gloucester, who chose him to design her wedding gown in 1935. (We will be taking a closer look at the dress in an upcoming installment.) He also designed the gowns of the bridesmaids which included the young York princesses, Elizabeth and Margaret. The then Duchess of York would accompany her young daughters to the Hartnell salon to view their fittings and it was there that she met the designer for the first time, beginning a relationship with the ladies of the royal family that would last for well over 40 years.

In honor of QEII’s birthday and continuing every Thursday though May, we’ll be taking a look at the design sketches for his various royal clients, beginning with his very first major design for Princess Elizabeth, her wedding gown. Hartnell aso designed the gowns for the bridesmaids, and Elizabeth’s “going away” outfit and hat. Busy man!

I’ve found three sketches attributed to Hartnell for the gown, some more finished than others.

13th November 1947: A drawing by Norman Hartnell of Princess Elizabeth’s (later Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain) wedding dress. (Photo by Arthur Tanner/Fox Photos/Getty Images)
Photo: Pinterest

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The final version looks a lot like the last sketch.

Photo: Pinterest

Sketch of a bridesmaid’s gown.

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And the final version.

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The “going away” outfit and hat.

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Embed from Getty Images

Embed from Getty Images

And the finished outfit. (Do I spy semi-shooties!?!)

Embed from Getty Images

Embed from Getty Images

So what do you think? Do the finished fashions live up to the fabulous sketches? Share your favorite photos of Elizabeth’s big day below, and we’ll have another Hartnell feature next week!