The Designer Diaries – Norman Hartnell: Brides Pt.1

Featured Photo: “The Wedding Dress of 1928”. “Be Dazzled!” p. 80

And we’re back! Chapters of the previous Hartnell series can be found here. Just scroll down until you find the “Designer Diaries” tab and hit that arrow.

Norman Hartnell created his first wedding gown in 1927 and it was all uphill from there. Weddings were a huge source of income for him, as he would not only design for the bride (who was more likely than not one of his former debutante clients), but also for the bridal party, the mother of the bride, the bride’s family members, and quite often the groom’s family as well. Most brides would also have him create their honeymoon wardrobes and trousseau, making him money hand over fist.

The dresses featured in this installment will range from 1927 through 1938, and are very good examples of the many embellishments and fine embroidery that his brand became known for. There are a lot of photos, so you should probably grab your favorite beverage and settle in. It’s going to be a while. LOL.

The first bridal gown Hartnell created was for the October 1927, “second” wedding of Daphne Vivian to Henry Thynne, 6th Marquess of Bath. (Due to parental disapproval, they were first married in secret at St Paul’s, Knightsbridge, in 1926.) The gown was made out of nets of silver and gold, and the press at the time declared her the “eighth wonder of the world.”

Henry’s sister, Lady Mary Thynne (who was a bridesmaid to Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon), was a great friend of Daphne’s, so when it was time for her wedding a month later to Lord Nunburnholme, she naturally commissioned Hartnell as well. The photo isn’t very good, but there is a video.

Photo Credit: “Be Dazzled” p.82

1927 was also the year he made the gown for the wedding of Barbara Cartland. Hartnell had made her presentation dress, so she naturally chose him to do her wedding gown. Although he didn’t design this one himself (that honor went to the bride), I included it here. The dress was made of white tulle, with frills of tulle forming the lower skirt and the lower part of the sleeves. The train was of white satin embossed with pale pink flowers and edged with ermine, which had been worn by her mother at her own wedding. The veil was of white tulle. Cartland would later say that her dress had been a disaster, due to her lack of design skills. Hartnell agreed.

Our next gown was declared, “The Wedding Dress of 1928”, even though it was never used in a wedding. There is a very long story behind it, but I’ll keep it short. This dress was donated to the London Museum in March of 1928, after it was used in a charity fashion show. It’s made out of pale pink satin and decorated with flowers outlined in clear glass bugle beads and silver metal thread. The center of each flower is a cabochon pearl that has been dyed pink. The dress has a dropped waist and a pale pink crepe de chine silk underslip, with two deep layers of netting attached to the hem. It also features ten metal weights suspended from strips of tape attached internally to the waistline, keeping everything smooth and sleek. The train is made of pink silk net.

Photo Credit:

If you liked that gown, you’ll love this one. Hartnell created a dress almost identical to the one above, but this time it was for an actual wedding. The Bowes Museum has possession of this gown and describes it as follows: “Silk satin and silk net embroidered with silver lace, bugle beads and pearls. This is a romantic creation with deep medieval-style sleeves. The graduating design of flowers on the drop-waisted skirt is echoed in satin on the train.” Make sure to click through to see the entire dress.

He designed the dresses for at least two of the Guinness sisters weddings, one in 1929 (Oonagh – Top) and another in 1930 (Maureen – Bottom).

Blogger Fiona from My Blogging London Life was kind enough to let me use some of her photos for this series, and these are the first set. She attended the “Hartnell to Amies” exhibit at The London Fashion Museum several years ago and took some fabulous photos. You really need to check out her blog. Lots of goodies! Here is Oonagh’s gown close up.

It’s not a great photo, but this is Maysie Gasque who was the Woolworth’s heiress. She married barrister John R. Robertson in 1930. Here is a link to a video of their wedding.

Next up is a gown worn by Deirdre Hart-Davis for her marriage to Ronald Balfour. Deirdre was the niece of  Lady Diana Cooper, Viscountess Norwich, who was considered one of the “Bright Young Things” of 1920’s London.

Although Hartnell was best known for his elaborate embroidery, this dress shows that he was just as comfortable fashioning simple designs as well. This gown was made in 1934 out of plain, unadorned white satin.

And our last dress belongs to actress Jeanne Stourton, who wed Ralph Robert Watts Sherman Stonor, 6th Baron Camoys in 1938. It appears some crazy times were had during that marriage. Her story could certainly keep you entertained for a while.

So what do you think? While the 20s gowns aren’t particular favorites of mine, the 30’s most certainly are, and all are truly works of art. It’s no wonder all of the young brides were hot on Hartnell’s trail! OH! One more thing. In the “gift that keeps on giving” department, I came across ANOTHER video having to do with the Gloucester wedding. THE GIFTS! Check ’em out! and be sure to comment on everything below.