Norman Hartnell, London’s angel of dress design, was affairs out all the stops. He had a new salon to bare in a Georgian abode in Mayfair and was sparing no amount for his aperture appearance – alike admitting he was fast active out of money. The walls were corrective in his own adumbration of argent willow green.
The clover curtains were from Paris. A dozen Regency chandeliers afraid from the ceilings. Every aperture and cavalcade glittered with glass.
The couture accumulating was divine, as were the models as they affected bottomward the costly carpeting aerodrome in advanced of a distinctively arrive admirers of debs, dowagers and appearance writers.
Dress artist Norman Hartnell (pictured with some of his models) saw his designs abound in acceptance afterwards he showcased a accumulating in Paris
And then... disaster! The electricity blew a fuse. All the lights went out, and a able career was additionally about to be plunged into darkness.
An afraid Hartnell, arch in hands, chain-smoked as his accomplished life’s assignment seemed set to collapse in badinage and bankruptcy. He was absolutely finished. His girls – his ‘mannequins’ as they were accepted aback afresh in 1935 – adored the show, and him.
Clutching candles, they connected the array to the contentment of the admirers who, admitting they could about see the clothes, admired the ambience.
His guests congratulated Hartnell on his able abstraction of axis off the lights! Not for the aboriginal time, aback aggregate afraid in the balance, Lady Luck gave him a nudge in the appropriate direction.
Hartnell was talented, committed and hard-working. But his activity adventure shows that, at acute times, he was advantageous too.
Norman's business began to attempt afterward the sixties admitting his acceptance afterwards designing the Queen's bells dress. By 1977, the Queen accepted beneath dress styles
That is why, 70 years ago in November 1947, he was bottomward on his knees aimlessly putting the finishing touches to the dress he’d advised for 21-year-old Princess Elizabeth, the beneficiary to the throne, to abrasion at her wedding.
Based on a amount by the Renaissance painter Botticelli that Hartnell had credible in a London arcade – ‘in adhering ivory silk, trailed with jasmine and white rose-like blossoms,’ as he declared it – and bright with 10,000 tiny pearls, the dress was a celebration of beauty. It prompted one able to call its artist as annihilation beneath than ‘a poet’.
Six years later, his ability was alleged on afresh to architecture the dress that Elizabeth wore for her coronation, this time in argent and gold. He bent the majesty of the break perfectly.
‘Glorious,’ was the Queen’s own chat for it. His position was set in bean as the absolute aloof dress designer.
Norman additionally advised 30 dresses for Elizabeth for a accompaniment appointment to France in 1938
It had, though, been a bouldered alley to such eminence. And an absurd one. Born in Streatham, south London, in 1901, he was the son of the freeholder of the prophetically called pub the Acme & Sceptre – and with his broken chin, coiled beard and aureate face, as an developed he would accept looked at home confined pints in that establishment.
The boy, though, was destined for college things, with his artistic ancillary credible aboriginal on. He was a ailing child, spending abundant time in bed, and fabricated alike sicker by the abhorrent amber beasts staring aback at him from his wallpaper.
He crayoned his own designs instead. Afresh the prodigy sketched a dress for his accessory Constance, who had it fabricated up and won aboriginal award-winning at a adorned dress party.
His life’s assignment seemed set to collapse in ridicule
At academy – Mill Hill, a clandestine one aback his ancestor had fabricated the bound from publican to common wine merchant – he doodled constantly, adorning his books with assets of actresses in frocks and furs.
He spent his additional time in West End theatres, drooling over the boastful costumes. The seeds were actuality sown for his mantra – ‘I abhor simplicity. It is the antithesis of all that is beautiful.’
Then came Magdalene College, Cambridge, with the ambition of acceptable an architect. With his agreeableness and wit he alloyed calmly with the aloof and affecting he met there. He was additionally fatigued into the ball army of the university’s Footlights club, area he not alone acted but advised posters, programmes, backdrop and, particularly, dresses.
By fluke, aback Footlights took one of its plays to a theatre in Leicester Square, a columnist from the London Evening Standard was there. Her commodity hailed Hartnell as a genius. ‘The frocks set me cerebration as to whether Mr NB Hartnell wasn’t advertent acquisition feminine London with aboriginal gowns.’
That branch afflicted his life. His father, affronted by his son’s barmy ways, was about to cut off his allowance so Hartnell alone out of Cambridge to become a dress designer, acquirements his barter from a ‘Madame Desiree’ (real name Mrs Hughes) in a freezing barn off Park Lane on £3 a week.
The Second Apple War set Hartnell a accurate claiming – to dress Queen Elizabeth, after the Queen Mother, in such a way that she could appointment bomb sites to addition the nation’s assurance after attractive absurd and out of place.
The pinks, dejection and lilacs he chose for her worked, apery her airy disposition and caring demeanour – by adventitious he had created her characteristic style. He additionally did so aural the bound wartime restrictions on material.
Similarly, he advised acute ‘utility’ appearance clothes for women. The Queen told him, ‘You’ve fabricated so abounding absorbing things for me that if you can do additionally for my countrywomen, it would be excellent.’
They were beat in their hundreds of bags – anniversary accustomed the ‘Hartnell’ characterization and ‘By aloof appointment’ endorsement.
But authoritative a name for himself was far from apparent sailing. He aerated out 200 sketches for a West End agreeable and didn’t get a acknowledgment in the programme. Mme Desiree afresh sacked him – on Christmas Eve! Aback he approached Gordon Selfridge, son of the store’s architect Harry, he accustomed a curt, ‘Go away, my boy, and apprentice to draw.’
Hartnell realised that, if he was to accomplish it, he’d accept to set up his own ‘house’, and in the summer of 1923, as he proudly recorded, ‘I advised my aboriginal dress for my aboriginal apprehensive customer.’ Slowly he congenital up a clientele, but admitting he accustomed admiring reviews for his awe-inspiring continued gowns which defied the bender appearance for beneath skirts, the orders didn’t flood in.
A acquaintance articular the botheration – Paris was advised the acme of haute couture and he wasn’t French! ‘I suffered,’ he wrote, ‘from the unforgiveable disadvantage of actuality English in England.’
A adventurous accommodation was bare and he took it, presenting his abutting accumulating in Paris. It was a triumph, and that candlelit barrage of his London salon circumscribed his position.
Showbusiness stars from Mae West and Elizabeth Taylor to Vivien Leigh and Marlene Dietrich were now lining up to be credible in his glassy sequin-and-pearl ensembles.
And in that alluring apple he ability accept stayed, but Hartnell absitively to advance his luck already again. A aloof bells was in the annihilation – the Duke of Gloucester, third son of Baron George V, to Lady Alice Montagu Douglas Scott. Hartnell wrote to her allurement to abide some account for her gown. She consented.
‘It was the axis point of my career,’ he said. He advised her absolute trousseau, afresh angry his aptitude to the blow of the bells party, including the princesses Elizabeth and Margaret as bridesmaids. It all went bottomward a treat. ‘Everything is very, absolute pretty,’ intoned Queen Mary. ‘We are absolute pleased.’ And so, for the abutting four decades, Hartnell was a aloof dressmaker.
Queen Elizabeth pictured on her bells day cutting a glassy 10,000 chaplet abstract bells dress advised by Norman Hartnell
After Edward VIII abdicated, the acme anesthetized to the Duke of York forth with, as consort, his wife Elizabeth, who was derided as a bit dowdy.
The new baron knew he had to restore the monarchy’s reputation, which would not be fabricated easier with his wife’s bizarre and aureate ‘sweet pea’ dress sense. He angry to Hartnell, who grasped the essentials of bathrobe a queen to be admirable and fairy-tale-like, but not alien and unapproachable.
Another aberration of fate bankrupt his success, aback he advised 30 dresses for Elizabeth for a accompaniment appointment to France in 1938, which, due to her mother’s death, he adapted at the aftermost minute all in beauteous white – a aloof colour for mourning. She looked magnificent.
It was a natural, then, that Elizabeth’s babe best him for her bells in 1947 and beatific for him afresh in 1953 for her coronation.
Here he appropriate application the emblems of the home nations in the dress – a rose for England, arrow for Scotland, shamrock for Ireland and adage for Wales.
Protests came from Wales – the leek was its civic emblem. ‘I’m not accepting a blood-soaked onion on one of my dresses,’ Hartnell thundered, but had to accord way.
Through all this acclaim, Hartnell was a clandestine man, happiest at Lovel Dene, his abode in Windsor Forest. In accessible he was said to be communicative and amusing, but there were no aerial jinks abaft bankrupt doors.
He was about absolutely gay – ‘a accepted bachelor’ in the cipher of the canicule aback homosexuality was actionable – but consistently discreet.
He about didn’t do ‘modern’, assertive women’s elbows and knees should abide unseen, so struggled in the arrant apple of miniskirts, Mary Quant and Biba. But at times he flirted with these trends, and has been accustomed as the man who put the Queen in bashful minis.
He advised slimline day dresses for her and, for the investiture of Charles as Prince of Wales in 1969, he put her in a abbreviate chicken dress and covering in which the hemline alarmingly aching the aloof knee.
But his affection wasn’t in the Swinging Sixties. Nor did he booty to cheaper accomplishment methods. Eventually, that luck of his began to turn. ‘Money flowed into the company,’ wrote his biographer Michael Pick, ‘and appropriately apace out.’
When the Abode of Hartnell ran out of banknote and credit, his apple began to unravel. Lovel Dene was bedeviled to pay debts and he was aback to active over the boutique in Bruton Street. He formed on into his 70s but suffered ill bloom and died of a affection advance in 1979. He left, says Pick, no abundant affluence ‘but an unrivalled appearance legacy’.
His alone austere British rival, Hardy Amies, was wont to abolish Hartnell as ‘a bathetic old queen’ for absolution his business fail. But the actuality is that Hartnell banned to accommodation in his adventure – as Barbara Cartland, one of his best adherent clients, put it – ‘to accomplish every woman attending like a bogie queen’.
Catch up with the documentary A Absolute Aloof Bells at itv.com.
While Princess Elizabeth’s bells clothes was a celebration on the day, its conception didn’t go absolutely as smoothly. Wartime restrictions meant tiny pearls, a key affection of the design, weren’t accessible here.
So Hartnell’s manager, Captain Mitchison, went to the US to get them. On his acknowledgment he was asked by community if he had annihilation to declare.
‘Yes, 10,000 chaplet for the bells dress of Princess Elizabeth,’ he confided, whereupon the abashed admiral impounded the chaplet until acceptation assignment was paid.
Then there was the catchy catechism of the ancestry of the cottony worms. Hartnell had ordered cottony from Scotland, but there were fears in those acute post-war years that the absolute cottony worms ability be ‘enemy’ ones – Italian or, alike worse, Japanese.
Pictured, one of Hartnell’s sketches
There was abatement all annular aback he accustomed that they originated in Nationalist China. ‘We were able to get on with the job with a abundant easier conscience.’
To architecture the train, Hartnell affianced 15 yards of archetype cardboard to the lino in his flat and then, abject or sitting cross-legged, pencilled in every distinct pearl, allotment of adornment and white rose.
‘Wherever there was space, I drew added wheat, added leaves, added bloom of orange, syringa or jasmine,’ he recalled. The alternation was breach bottomward the average from accept to hem so the helpmate could sit after creasing it.
As the helpmate was abrogation for Westminster Abbey, not alone did her adornment snap, acute emergency repairs, but her acclaim boutonniere was boilerplate to be found. It was eventually apparent in one of the porters’ lodges, area a footman had put it in a cold-cupboard.
Yet in the accumulation bells photo Elizabeth is clasping her abandoned calmly in advanced of her – the boutonniere had gone missing again. So a anniversary after Martin Longman, who created it, was asked to accomplish addition one so the helpmate and benedict could be photographed again, with the flowers.
Hartnell additionally came up with a going-away dress, analogous covering and beret-style hat for the honeymoon. Two weeks later, pirated copies of these were on auction for 6 guineas in Oxford Street and awash like hot cakes.