The Designer Diaries – Norman Hartnell: Pt.2

Featured Image: CC licenceThe Royal Wedding’ (Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester; Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester)by Vandyk, published by J. Beagles & Co Bromide postcard print, 6 November 1935. NPG x197272© National Portrait Gallery, London

Part one of the series told us a bit about Hartnell, and featured the then Princess Elizabeth’s wedding dress and those of her bridesmaids, as well as her “going away outfit”. Check it out here if you somehow missed it. In part two will be taking a look at the event that introduced Hartnell to the royals to begin with – The wedding of Lady Alice Christabel Montagu Douglas to Prince Henry, The Duke of Gloucester. (This link is to the Vogue article “The Bride Who Wore Pink”. It is VERY interesting and provided much of the information for this post. I highly recommend you check it out!)

Photo Credit: CC licenceThe wedding of Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester and Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester
by and after Vandyk
hand-coloured bromide print, 6 November 1935
NPG x134883
© National Portrait Gallery, London

Prince Henry, was the third son and fourth child of King George V and Queen Mary. Lady Alice was the daughter of Scotland’s largest landowner, John Montagu Douglas Scott, the 7th Duke of Buccleuch, and his wife Lady Margaret Bridgeman. Lady Alice was the sister of Henry’s friend, Lord William Montagu Douglas Scott, which was how the two first met. 

Lady Alice contacted Norman Hartnell, asking the designer to create her dress (as well as the dresses of her eight bridesmaids, her going away outfit, and her entire wedding trousseau!) sometime after their engagement on September 2, 1935. This barely gave him two months to complete everything for the November wedding, and if you ask me the speed at which he accomplished this was nothing short of incredible.

Lady Alice asked that her dress be very simple, which wasn’t exactly Hartnell’s style. He was more of a lace and ribbons kind of designer, but since the client is always right he was happy to oblige. Alice’s dress had long sleeves and a high neckline which draped into a nosegay of artificial orange-blossom. There was also a rather voluminous cathedral train and veil, since the wedding was to have originally taken place in Westminster Abbey. The original setting was also the inspiration for the bride’s blush toned gown. “Because of the dim lighting in the Abbey it was considered that the dress should not be in stark white, but in a soft tone with something of the glimmer of pearl,” noted Hartnell in his autobiography. Some also believed that Alice’s age (34 at the time, which was practically unheard of in 1935) played a large factor in both the bride and the designer’s decision to avoid creating a more “maiden- like” white gown.

Hartnell’s design sketch.

Photo Credit; Vogue

Final version

Photo Credit: Vogue

The adult bridesmaids dresses (sketch isn’t a Hartnell, but I take what I can get!) were also simple, but with wider sleeves and a wider neckline than the bride’s. The necklines were then decorated with faux flowers. Hartnell originally envisioned a “sophisticated Empire-style” dress for Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret, but the king put an end to that idea by requesting that they actually look like little girls. So sophistication was scrapped for short dresses of pale pink satin, trimmed with ruffled tulle. Everything turned out very well indeed as Queen Mary pronounced, “We are very pleased. We think everything is very, very pretty.”

The sketch for Elizabeth and Margaret’s dresses.

Photo: Pinterest

Bridal party sketch.

Final design

As mentioned above, Prince Henry and Lady Alice were originally to have been married in a grand affair at Westminster Abbey on November 6th, but Alice’s father died of cancer in October, barely two weeks before the wedding was to take place. And as King George’s health was also in question at the time it was decided that a scaled down wedding would be more appropriate for all involved, so they married in a small, private ceremony at the Private Chapel at Buckingham Palace.

It has been said that Hartnell regretted that his work on the event didn’t receive the worldwide publicity that it was originally intended to create. But as the new Duchess of Gloucester arrived at Buckingham Palace in the Scottish State Coach, then rode off again in the open carriage wearing her second Hartnell design of the day, the nearly 1 million people crowding the streets for the occasion must have realized that he had been given the “royal stamp” of approval and his business skyrocketed from there.

The Duchess has a very unusual waving style here. I wonder if it changed over the years?

So what do you think of the blush pink gown? Fabulous or frightful? Feel free to share any photos of the ever lovely Princess Alice, The Duchess of Gloucester in the comments below. She lived to be 101, so you should surely have a favorite moment!