A truly British couturier, who eschewed the fashionable allure
of Paris, Hartnell was notable for designing the two most important
dresses of the Queen's ceremonial life - her wedding dress and her
coronation gown (pictured left).
Norman Hartnell opened his London salon in 1923 and came to the attention of the royal family when he was commissioned to design the bride's and bridesmaids' dresses for the wedding of the Duke of Gloucester, third son of King George V. The Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret were two of the bridesmaids. By the 1930s Hartnell was designing for Queen Elizabeth. His feminine, pastel confections were inspired by the romantic paintings of the Victorian court painter Franz Winterhalter.
In 1947 he created Princess Elizabeth's wedding dress. Inspired by Botticelli, the satin dress shimmered with embroidered garlands of seed pearls and crystals. In post-war austerity Britain, Hartnell's creation was a sensation.
His next landmark was Queen Elizabeth's white silk coronation
gown. He used subtle shades of pink, blue, yellow and green silk,
pearls and diamante to incorporate the emblems of Britain and the
Commonwealth into the design: the Tudor rose, the thistle, leek,
shamrock, the Canadian maple leaf, the Australian wattle flower,
the fern of New Zealand, the protea of South Africa, the wheat and
jute of Pakistan and the lotus of Ceylon.
He went on to design the Queen's wardrobe for her landmark 1953 Coronation Tour. Lasting six months, the Queen would require over 100 outfits, suitable for a range of climates. Hartnell's magnificent collection made liberal use of crease-resistant duchesse satin and his trademark elaborate embroidery.
Hartnell's stately court dresses were eventually eclipsed by the more democratic fashions of the 1960s. His legacy of majestic, fairtytale dresses define the early decades of the Queen's reign.