Norman Hartnell relaxing on holiday, circa 1930 Maids of honour shot by Cecil Beaton at the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II
Princess Elizabeth arriving at her coronation ceremony at Westminster Abbey, June 2nd 1953

History

Sir Norman Hartnell combined flamboyant flair with the dignity and assurance of traditional British style. The designer who famously quipped, “I despise simplicity. It is the negation of all that is beautiful” was known for his opulent yet elegant designs, lavishly adorned embroidery, and use of intricate details. His repertoire of clients included Hollywood starlets, socialites, princesses and queens, all of whom were drawn to the glamour and palatial pomp exuded by his designs.

Hartnell began his career in fashion by designing costumes for the legendary Cambridge University Footlights Dramatic Club. After leaving Cambridge without a degree, he set up his eponymous label in 1923 on Bruton Street in Mayfair. Although best known as a couturier and official dressmaker to the Queen, Hartnell produced a range of collections over the course of his lifetime, including bridal wear, perfume, shoes, furs, menswear, jewellery and ready-to-wear.

Norman Hartnell’s final sketch for Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation gown The House of Hartnell, 26 Bruton St. Mayfair.

His most famous commissions included his designs for Queen Elizabeth’s wedding dress in 1947, and his highly celebrated Coronation gown 6 years later. The Coronation gown, which was hand embroidered with 10,000 seed pearls and thousands of white crystal beads, all meticulously arranged to render emblems of the Commonwealth, is widely regarded today as a centerpiece in the history of ceremonial dress. The resplendent gown will be on display at Buckingham Palace this June as part of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations.

The Queen Mother knighted Hartnell in 1977 for his services to the Royal Household. He became known as ‘The First Fashion Knight’, and was one of only four British designers to ever have been knighted; Norman Hartnell, Hardy Amies, Paul Smith and Vivienne Westwood.

Satin and Tulle Norman Hartnell Evening Dress Worn by Lady Plunkett, 1929
Super model Barbara Goalen dressed in Norman Hartnell, circa 1953

Couture & Wedding

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.

Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation parade shot in Norman Hartnell’s grand salon, circa 1952

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.

Norman Hartnell’s sketch of HM Queen Elizabeth in a 1950s cocktail gown typical of the era
Norman Hartnell relaxing on holiday, circa 1930

Menswear

The Norman Hartnell Menswear collections were striking. Suits with clean, sharp lines and glamorous evening wear using the latest in fabrics, colours and styles. The name, popular with both Licensees and their clientele, is synonymous with a strength and elegance that comes from the heart of what Norman Hartnell wanted to achieve as a designer.

His strength of cut and line is shown in this striking example from the late sixties - Hartnell was responsible for bringing back the double breasted jacket in the late sixties; his styles were the direct precursor to many of today’s styles.

Norman Hartnell arrives at work on Bruton street, circa 1938
“Regency by Peter Jones”; Norman Hartnell makes light of his grand country home ‘Lovel Dene’

Homeware

Norman Hartnell also had a passion for interior design. He transformed his Windsor Forest country home, Lovel Dene, into a Regency period-inspired sanctuary. The décor was extravagant, awash with rich floral displays, velvet upholstery, mirrored tables, crystal chandeliers and tasselled carpets.

Today, Hartnell Home embodies this spirit of stately refinement. The collection covers the entire spectrum of home products including bathroom, bedroom, tabletop and living room sets. Inspired by Hartnell’s colour palette, his illustrations and original embroidery, Hartnell Home is a contemporary range which pays homage to its regal heritage. Each product is infused with its own story, and is crafted with the greatest commitment to quality.

Drawing Room at Norman Hartnell’s Berkshire home, ‘Lovel Dene’