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

Embed from Getty Images

The final version looks a lot like the last sketch.

Photo: Pinterest

Sketch of a bridesmaid’s gown.

Embed from Getty Images

And the final version.

Embed from Getty Images

The “going away” outfit and hat.

Embed from Getty Images

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!

Belgium · Luxembourg

Royal Wedding Gowns – Eighties Excess

This is the last in our series on royal wedding gowns. We hope you enjoyed the tour, which took us through family traditions, cultural aesthetics, matching gowns to venues, scaling gowns to the occasion, coats and wraps galore, and many other aspects of designing a royal wedding gown. If you want to revisit any part of it, go to “Find that Post” on the header, select “Recurring Feature” and “Royal Wedding Gowns”.

We are leaving with a fun post by revisiting the era of excess, otherwise known as the eighties. Big sleeves, big hair, big design, big, well – everything. If you are wondering where the granddaddy of all big dresses is, we have already covered that one! Take a trip back and enjoy some other gowns.

Bride: Princess Astrid of Belgium
Designer: Louis Mies

The daughter of King Albert and Queen Paola married in 1984, and the operating word on her gown is leg-o-mutton sleeves. No one ever remembers that gown was made of taffeta, had a massively long train and some lovely lace insets. The sleeves simply take over.

Brides: Princess Marie Astrid and Princess Margretha of Luxembourg
Designers: Unknown

The mini-marriage boom in Luxembourg occurred in 1981 and 1982, with Hereditary Grand Duke Henri marrying in 1981, and his two sisters in 1982. Just in time for ruffles! The older of the sisters, Marie Astrid, married first. Her gown featured ruffles at the sleeves, v neckline and waist. The gown also featured an assymetrical wrap that secured the skirt adorned with – you guessed it – ruffles.

Princess Margretha, Grand Duke Henri’s younger sister, married a few weeks later. The gown has many similarities to her sister’s, in this case, though, the ruffles decorate a high neckline and are even more liberally applied to the sleeves. The same volume can be found in the skirt, though! It remained 1982 ; ).

The eighties were my heyday, and I have more than my share of fondness for their more outrageous elements. The good news is that all of these marriages have lasted, and there are many children from the unions. The big, of-their-times dresses made not a difference to long term happiness, and they give us something to look back on with, we hope, amused tolerance if not outright appreciation.

What part of the "Eighties Excess" is your favorite?
Bhutan · Brunei · Japan

Royal Wedding Gowns – Color

Royal weddings are not always about white gowns. Today we’ll look at color, and how it is reflected in the wedding ensembles worn in Japan, Brunei and Bhutan. Previous entries in this series can be found on the header, under Find That Post!/Recurring Feature.

Bride: Masako Owada
Traditional Dress: Jūnihitoe

Did you know that when Crown Prince Naruhito was engaged to diplomat Masako Owada in 1993, Japan was gripped by “Masako Mania”? Much of the country was excited to see what western-style dress Masako would wear for the wedding, but part of her ensemble was pre-ordained and traditional. The traditional jūnihitoe , or the colorful part, is what we are concerned with today.

Jūnihitoe means 12 layer robe, although the number of layers differ depending on the event. The layers are all silk garments, and the number of layers can only be discerned at the sleeves, neckline and hem. A description of each layer can be found here.

Look at the layers more closely here. The colors, including green, light yellow, orange and burgundy, blend harmoniously. These colors are often given poetic names to mark the occasion. The layered garment can weigh up to 20 kg, so kudos to Masako for making it look easy. Note the elaborate fan which color coordinates with the dress, and is an important part of the entire ensemble.

Just for contrast, here is her western style gown and the Japanese scroll tiara, worn by several generations of Japanese royals on their wedding days.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Bride: Jetsun Pema
Traditional Dress: Kira, toego, wonju (The bride wore several iterations of this ensemble)
Groom: Jigme Khesar Namgeyl Wangchuck
Traditional Dress: Gho and tshoglham

When Jetsun Pema married the current King of Bhutan, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, in 2011, a veritable explosion of color was on display. In this case we should look at both bride and groom, because their ensembles are equally beautiful and colorful.

First, the bride. She wore the traditional kira, the ankle dress that is traditional to Bhutan. Her kira was red, yellow, green and white. Her toego, or jacket, was light yellow. Her wonju, or blouse, was red, and she added red earrings. During the ceremony, the Phoenix Crown was placed on her head.

The King wore the traditional gho in bright yellow, which was worn by his own father. He wore colorful Bhutanese boots (tshoglham), the elaborate design displaying the status of the wearer. During the ceremony the Raven Crown was placed on his head.

Bride: Princess Hajah Hafizah Sururul Bolkiah of Brunei
Traditional Dress: Long gown, lace head scarf for the bride, and knee length jacket for the groom.

The princess and her groom, Pengiran Haji Muhammad Ruzaini, married on September 23, 2012, in a celebration that encompassed the wedding ceremony and several receptions. The bride and groom wore lavish incarnations of traditional dress.

In Brunei, a conservative Muslim culture, brides typically wear long gowns, in a light color, often with flower designs. They also cover their hair with head scarves that feature prominent lace work at the border. The princess added several different tiaras, as well. The groom wore a knee length jacket and matching trousers, as is typical, along with a traditional turban. What is not typical is the level of jewelry accessorizing that you see below, because this was an elaborate and very Brunei-royal wedding on every level.

The light blue and purple gowns pictured below were worn to the receptions. The light yellow gown was worn during the wedding ceremony in the throne room.

What do you like most about colorful wedding ensembles? Choose as many options as you want!
Britain · Monaco · Spain

Royal Wedding Gowns – Fatigue-Defying Lace

Welcome our Royal Wedding Gown series, where we look at royal gowns from a different perspective. Today we are tackling everyone’s favorite subject, lace fatigue, and defying it with gowns that do lace right.

Previous entries in this series can be found in the Recurring Feature section, Weddings, found under “Find that Post!” in the header bar.

Bride: Beatrice Borromeo
Designer: Giorgio Armani Privé

Yes, Beatrice Borromeo had five wedding dresses and heaven knows how many other changes of clothes over her wedding weekend. The one we are focusing on is the religious ceremony wedding dress, a dreamy, flowing vision of a lace gown.

The wedding between Beatrice Borromeo and Pierre Casiraghi is best described as aristocratic and royal adjacent, not truly royal, but one thing really lept out at me. The groom was besotted with his bride, and who can blame him? Just look at her in that dress. She is a lace fever dream. The ivory Armani Privé dress sported a flared silhouette in Chantilly lace and layers of silk chiffon, which flowed and moved with the bride as she walked. The open neckline dropped to a deep-V in the back, and was fastened with a row of buttons. She finished the look with a delicate silk tulle veil attached with sparkly hair ornaments.

Bride: Princess Sofia of Greece and Denmark
Designer: Jean Dessès

The wedding of Princess Sofia of Greece and Denmark and Prince Juan Carlos of Spain was truly royal, uniting two European houses (although Spain had yet to return to a monarchy). Many of the European royal houses represented in the bridal party, so the whole shebang was quite the occasion. The dress itself had to represent royalty with a capital R.

Princess Sofia requested that her gown be sewn by Greek seamstresses, and they delivered a beautifully constructed dress of tulle and lace on a silver-white lamé base. The open neckline, 3/4 length sleeves and split skirt add design interest without overwhelming the bride. It’s a lace extravaganza, imperfectly rendered in the period photographs.

Fortunately, the dress has been on display in the Museum of Palace Life in Aranjuez. We can get a better look at the back of the gown in particular, with that spectacular train that extended from her shoulders for 20 (!) feet. It, too, was covered with tulle, and more lace. She anchored her veil with the Prussian Diamond tiara on loan from her mother, Queen Frederica.

Bride: Catherine Middleton
Designer: Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen

This dress worn by Catherine Middleton at her wedding to Prince William needs no introduction or explanation. It has been widely photographed and extensively discussed. It would be no exaggeration to say it was one of the most, if not the most, anticipated royal wedding gowns of the last twenty years.

Embed from Getty Images

As lacey as the dress appeared on first viewing, much of the lace detail was not that apparent on the television screen, particularly the appliques on the skirt, underskirt and bodice. The bodice incorporated floral motifs cut from machine-made lace,  in a style influenced by traditional Carrickmacross lace. The entire dress was fabricated from white satin gazar. The impeccably tailored bodice opened into a full skirt with padded hips and a bustle, flowing into a 270 cm train. She attached her chapel length veil with the Cartier Halo tiara.

Bride: Grace Kelly
Designer: Helen Rose

Embed from Getty Images

I debated even including this one because it’s almost beyond discussing at this point. Since everyone knows it very well, I’ll hit the high points. Point 1: The dress was a gift from MGM, and designed by a Hollywood costume designer. This makes it more of a set piece rather than a wedding dress, but it served its purpose to such a degree it’s become iconic. Point 2: It’s not a dress at all. Skirt, train, bodice and cummerbund are all separate pieces. The whole thing is supported by a corset and two petticoats. Point 3: The dress materials included “twenty-five yards of silk taffeta, one hundred yards of silk net, peau de soie, tulle, and 125 year old Brussels lace”.

Which is your favorite Royal lace wedding gown?

Royal Wedding Gowns – The Dutch Aesthetic

Welcome our Royal Wedding Gown series, where we look at royal gowns from a different perspective. Today, let’s discuss some of the common elements that make up the Dutch aesthetic. We talked about Queen Maxima’s wedding gown at length here, and Princess Irene’s dress here, so we won’t be including them in the post today.

Previous entries in this series can be found in the Recurring Feature section, Weddings, found under “Find that Post!” in the header bar.

Bride: Princess Beatrix
Designer: Caroline Bergé-Farwick of Maison Linette

I’ve never doubted that Princess Beatrix is a strong character with decided opinions, and it was said that when she was engaged to Claus von Amsberg in 1966, she insisted on a lot of input into the design of her wedding gown. The resulting dress had a relatively simple silhouette, with a high neckline and 3/4 length three-quarter sleeves. On the skirt, the defining feature is the split over-skirt that extends from the waist and forms the train that flows behind for several meters. The fabric sports a swirled pattern over the skirt and train.

Embed from Getty Images

From the neck up, Beatrix is all impact. She wears the large version of the Württemberg Tiara, the trademark beehive, and massive fluffy tulle. In fact, when I think of this wedding, the tulle is what I remember. It is definitely a look not to be missed or forgotten.

Bride: Laurentien Brinkhorst
Designer: Edouard Vermeulen of NATAN

Laurentien married the youngest son of Queen Beatrix, Prince Constantijn, in 2001. Yes, there are a lot of Natan elements here, but the dress and the wearer triumph over them. The silhouette appears simple at first, but there is a lot of design going on. The bodice features a bateau neckline, which drops to a deep v in the back. The sleeves open up to a bell effect. The skirt, much like her mother-in-law’s, sports a slim under-skirt with a split skirt over it, flowing into a long train.

Embed from Getty Images

Laurentien wore the Laurel Wreath tiara, which, again like her mother-in-law, secured an explosion of fluffy tulle.

Bride: Annette Sekrève
Designer: Frans Molenaar

Annette Sekrève married Prince Bernhard of Orange-Nassau, the son of Princess Margriet and Pieter van Vollenhoven, in 2000. Her gown, like many of the other Dutch gowns, sported no beading or lace, but instead featured a lot of fabric. The coat dress had a scoop neck with a collared neckline, and was secured with buttons down the front. The coat split over a slim under-skirt, and led into the train that flowed behind.

The Ears of Wheat tiara, also worn by the other daughters-in-law of Margriet and Pieter, is almost indistinguishable under, you guessed it, lots of fluffy tulle.

To see more of the Dutch aesthetic (Lots of tulle! Simple silhouettes!) look back at these gowns:

Princess Margriet
Princess Marilene
Princess Aimee
Princess Anita

Which bride does the Dutch Bridal look best?