Monday, January 11, 2010


Norman Hartnell was a British designer who worked like a dog and ended up dressing a queen. He made his way through good old fashioned work, starting out by working for other designers like Lucile, one of the best known designers of that time period. Soon after, Lucile published some designs that looked awfully familiar: they were his. Mr Hartnell ended up successfully suing her for stealing his work. That was in the early 20s.

Mr Hartnell opened his couture house in 1934, after years of pinching pennies building the business. His sister managed the business, which was built on pretty day dresses made for ladies who lunch, with a smattering of his gorgeous beaded dresses. His couture house was built with much thought to not just design, but to money, as he and his sister made one frugal team. Some paint and a few chandeliers later, he was ready for his first show in the new house.

Keep in mind, couture houses' shows were a huge deal that would make or break a house. The great publicists of fashion were present at each one, and the schedule in Paris was set in stone -- if you got sick, you missed it. It was a one shot deal. Yes, Mr Hartnell was in London, but this was still a do-or-die deal for him, and he was nervous until it got underway. That lasted all but a few seconds, when suddenly the lights went out, throwing the crowd into darkness.

A short panic ensued, but the show was finished in a rather odd way: the models brought the dresses to the publicists by carrying them in their arms, instead of wearing them. Can you imagine Fashion Week at Bryant Park taking place with no trademark stomps, and instead the heroin chic models thrusting the dresses under your nose in a half darkened room? Not me. Instead, I can see the mannequins, as they were known in 1934, lovingly carrying out gowns, in all their embroidered and beaded splendor, and gently offering them up for the perusal of the enamored public.

And yes, that's how I see it. It may not have been so romantic as I see it, but we all have choices in life, and I choose romance.

1 comment:

  1. I love many of the dresses that Hartnell and Hardy Amies did for the Queen.