The Designer Diaries – Norman Hartnell: Brides: Pt.2

Chapters of the previous Hartnell series can be found here. Scroll down to the “Designer Diaries” tab. Link to Brides: Part 1 if necessary.

ETA- I had originally included a line about keeping discussion of the Duchesses “R” rated life in “PG-13” territory. After reading some of your comments, which have been firmly in “G” territory but a bit stunned, I’ll put it back in. She was involved in more scandals than there are grains of sand on the beach.

This post features a gown that could quite possibly be Norman Hartnell’s greatest non-royal achievement – the wedding gown of socialite Margaret Whigham, who would go on to become The Duchess of Argyll. Let’s learn a bit about her before we dive in.

Ethel Margaret Whigham was the only child of multi-millionaire George Hay Whigham and his wife, Helen Mann Hannay. Margaret spent the majority of her adolescence in New York City, returning to London in time for her Debutante Ball in 1930. The 18-year old made quite an impression and was named “Debutante of the Year“, launching her “career” as one of London’s most famous and influential socialites. Shortly afterward she announced her engagement to Charles Guy Fulke Greville, 7th Earl of Warwick, but the wedding was called off after she met Charles Sweeny, an American stockbroker/amateur golfer whose family had made millions from coal-mining, oil-drilling, and smelting.

Margaret was 20 years old when she and Sweeney married at Brompton Oratory on February 21st, 1933. Her gown was made from embroidered silk satin and tulle, studded with with hundreds of glass beads, and featured a 18 foot train. (The museum has also stated that the train is 12 foot, 1 and 3/4 inches long, or 3.70 meters. So who knows.) It took 30 seamstresses about six weeks to make the gown, and reportedly cost the bride £52, which was considered to be crazy expensive at the time. (Adjusted for inflation, it would come in at £3,746.12 in today’s money.) The dress is scattered in pearl-embroidered stars, some transparent, and are placed both on the skirt and at various points on the bodice. Designed to be a showstopper, it did just that; literally stopping traffic for three hours outside of the church. Of course the 1-2,000 invited guests and the (estimated) 2,000 more who tried to crash the gate probably didn’t help much either. Make sure to check out the V&A link below. Lots of closeups.

Lighting, as usual, is everything although I wouldn’t be surprised if the actual color is somewhere between the two.

Photo Credit: The V&A

Some photos of the wedding day, as well as another short video.

Embed from Getty Images

The gown is currently in the possession of the V&A in London and was the centerpiece of their 2014 Wedding Gown Exhibit. It has also travelled the world, so some special packing techniques had to be invented to ensure it made it there and back in one piece.

So what do you think? Were you unaware of Miss Whigham before today, or has she always been on your radar? What do you think of her fashion choices throughout her colorful life? Post some photos and let us know below.