Norman Hartnell: English designer


In my personal library of fashion history titles, I have the following book:

Silver and Goldby Norman Hartnell.

Published in 1955, it is Hartnell’s autobiography. Hartnell (1901-1979) was an English designer best known for designing Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation gown in 1953 and was the primary designer for English Royalty beginning in 1935.

Thus, much of this book focuses on his work for the Royal family. But, a good section also focuses on his fashion work in the 1930s. It includes a number of full page photographs, sketches and full color illustrations of various gowns designed by Hartnell between about 1930-1955. Eye candy to say the least.

The tone of the book is a bit of mind candy as well – you’ll see what I mean by this quote (pg 80)

“The pastel shades of velvet are almost irresistible in palest turquoise, lilac and candy pink, but resisted they are, for they would prove too costly for the young wearer and too enlargening for the mature. Some exquisite silks and satins are rippled out at our feet and the temptation is to buy the whole lot, but common sense enters to resist the rustling flowerstrewn taffetas and metal threaded brocades, often too rich in beauty for women to wear. I have to remember reluctantly that at my dress collections a woman may refuse the most beautiful dress in preference for a little workaday number. Recklessly, however, I do order one or two of these glorious products, to be included in the collection merely for the sake of decoration and personal satisfaction.”

Flowery descriptions and gossipy notes on the Royals and lessor nobles abound. This fashion show by Hartnell from 1938 not only shows (quickly) his collection, but also explains much of his inspiration – Victoriana, Egyptian drapery, English flowers, fur, sequins, jewels and crystals.

More on the Royal wardrobe can be found here at the official website for her The British Monarchy.

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