Late Queen’s dress designer exhibition in Plymouth

Sir Norman Hartnell, personal designer to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, will be remembered in an exclusive exhibition from 5 to 8 December, at 3, Elliot Terrace, Plymouth Hoe, with proceeds going to SSAFA, the Armed Forces charity.

The exhibition, ‘By Royal Appointment’, is a one-off chance to view gowns from a private collection, designed for both royalty and Hartnell’s own family members. Hartnell’s Goddaughter will give two insightful talks about the designer and his fame at the Drake Room, Plymouth Guildhall from 6.30pm to 7.45pm.

Hartnell was the late Queen’s favourite couturier. Born in London in 1901, he realised he wanted to be a fashion designer when he was at Cambridge University, designing costumes for the famous Footlights drama society. Tapping into his exclusive network of wealthy friends in the roaring ‘20s, he began to make a name for himself designing and producing gowns for London debutants.

Hartnell believed in flamboyance with style,

“I despise simplicity; it is the negation of all that is beautiful.”

His creations soon caught the eye of not just Vivien Leigh and Marlene Dietrich, but also the Royal family. After attending a wedding where the bride was wearing a Hartnell dress, the Queen was so taken with his style that she commissioned him to produce her whole 1939 North America and Canadian tour wardrobe.

This started the royal relationship, which lasted throughout Hartnell’s professional career. Designing Queen Elizabeth II’s wedding dress was an honour which was only to be beaten by his being asked to design her coronation dress a few years later. In 1977 Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother, made Hartnell the first fashion designer ever to be named a Knight of the Royal Victorian Order. More recently, we saw Princess Beatrice marry in one of the late Queen’s evening dresses, designed by Hartnell.

Hartnell was more famous in his day than any designer we could mention in the contemporary era. His dresses are considered masterpieces. At the forthcoming exhibition visitors will be able to see the original works, close up, and hear from Hartnell’s Goddaughter about the man, his royal connections, and how he remembered her every year by creating her a beautiful dress. The mixture of intimacy and high fashion is irresistible. The evening talks are being held on the 5th and 7th December.

Hartnell’s connection to SSAFA, the Armed Forces charity, is time honoured. In 1943 he organised an Anglo Latin American Exhibition, to acknowledge and promote Latin American Countries assistance to Britain during the war. The exhibition then travelled round the counties between 1943 to 1945 and raised £10,000 for SSAFA, which is nearly £2 million pounds in today’s money.

Claire Williams, SSAFA Devon Branch Secretary, said:

“We are very much looking forward to presenting this magnificent exhibition. Her Late Majesty The Queen was the Patron of SSAFA for many years and to have an insight into her designer’s bespoke clothes feels really very special. Thank you to all that are coming to see the exhibition, your attendance and donations mean a lot to SSAFA Devon and Plymouth, who are here to support the Armed Forces in many ways.”

For more information and to book tickets for the evening talks email:
Tickets for entry to the exhibition, without the talk, are available on the door.

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