No other designer in the history of British Couture captivated London society the way Norman Hartnell did. Hartnell had a remarkable ability to create expressive designs, which both enhanced the individuality of the wearer, and sparked the imagination of the viewer.
Contemporaries such as Chanel and Christian Dior regarded him as a design inspiration. The British couturier was also the favourite designer of stage and screen stars Vivien Leigh and Marlene Dietrich, who were drawn to his Bruton Street salon.
Hartnell’s love for spectacle also found expression in his opulent wedding dresses. He was praised for his ability to create ethereal and romantic gowns which elevated character and body type. Brides from both sides of the Atlantic clamoured to have their gowns created by the designer.
It was not uncommon for the House of Hartnell to design for the entire bridal retinue. This dazzling panoply included dresses for the bridesmaids, the mother of the bride, the honeymoon wardrobe and trousseau. On occasion Hartnell would also dress the Groom’s family.
When the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester married in 1935, Hartnell designed both the Duchesses’ pearl pink satin wedding dress, and the dresses for her bridesmaids, Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret. This marked the beginning of his long and illustrious relationship with the Royal Family.
Hartnell was instrumental in helping the Queen Mother craft a sense of romanticism in her style. She became such an avid fan of Hartnell that she insisted he design bridal gowns for both her daughters, Princess Elizabeth in 1947, and Princess Margaret in 1960.
Hartnell claimed that his ivory silk, crystal and seed pearl embroidered gown for Princess Elizabeth was “the most beautiful dress” he had made to date. The 13- foot- long star-patterned train was inspired by Botticelli’s Primavera, and captured the imagination of a stricken post-war Britain in search of escapism.