It is not generally known that nine designs for the Queen's Coronation Dress were created by Norman Hartnell. One of the dresses was of white satin with gold branches of oak leaves, with acorns suspended on silver threads, set on crystal stalks; another had a border of black and white ermine tails, and yet another was a crinoline dress resembling Queen Victoria's Coronation Dress, sewn with crystals and diamonds. The eighth dress was ultimately chosen by the Queen, comprising the emblems of England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales, and of the Commonwealth Countries. A quite secret fact was the tiny pocket of silk, containing a four-leaf clover, or shamrock, which was stitched into one of the seams inside the dress, for good luck. Hartnell was greatly disappointed to be told he must incorporate the leek for Wales, not the daffodil. He went into a vegetable garden and pulled up a leek, but then remembered the cap badge of the Welsh Guards, and knew that something could be done with it.
He flew specially to New York to obtain over 2,000 small seed pearls for the embroidery, which was eventually all completed by Mr Hartnell's own staff, plus a team from the Royal School of Needlework and Embroidery. Norman Hartnell had previously designed the Queen's Wedding Dress, and was a great favourite of Queen Mary. The matching ensemble of coat and dress of sea-blue, known today, perhaps, as turquoise, which Queen Mary wore at Princess Elizabeth's wedding, was to be the last made for her by Mr Hartnell.
Norman Hartnell first started designing dresses as a child and was given a box of crayons when he was ill in bed with measles. He saved up his pocket money later to visit theatres, and was inspired by the costumes he saw there. He then joined the Footlights Dramatic Club, and it was a short step to having dresses noticed by some famous Actresses of the day, in the 1920's. From then on, Norman Hartnell, or Sir Norman Hartnell as he was to become, always affected a quill pen to work with, and acquired his famous premises at 26 Bruton Street, London.
Sir Norman later designed the new uniform worn by the W.R.A.C.(formerly the A.T.S.) after the war. It was during the war that the terms dusty pink, dusty blue and dusty lilac were first introduced, by Norman Hartnell, which are still fashionable today. This was because the Queen Mother required him to make a new dress for her, suitable to visit areas of bomb devastation. It was Christian Dior, of France, however, who created the famous so-called "New Look" after the war, with its sensational, for the times, lower hem-line and fuller skirt.
written by Rosemary Goulding
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