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Top 25 Art Blog - Creative Tourist

Hartnell to Amies: Couture by Royal Appointment at the Fashion and Textile Museum

In a new blockbuster exhibition, the Fashion and Textile Museum celebrates British couturiers Norman Hartnell, Hardy Amies and Frederick Fox: tailors of the golden age of British couture.

Written by Matt Bramford


Norman Hartnell by Gemma Champ

2012 has been a pretty regal year in the UK, from the pomp and ceremony of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee to Queen Liz (sort of) parachuting from a helicopter at the London Olympic Games. What better way to round that off than with a glorious celebration of the golden age of British couture at the Fashion and Textile Museum?


Norman Hartnell photographed by Norman Parkinson

Hartnell & Amies: Couture by Royal Appointment might just be one of my favourite FTM exhibition. A rare celebration of our own couturiers, the exhibition charts the rise of fashion greats Norman Hartnell, Hardy Amies and milliner Frederick Fox pre and post war.


Norman Hartnell by Anna Wand

Sir Norman Hartnell was born in London in 1901. At only 22, with financial help from his father and support from his sister, the fashion legend opened his first salon in Mayfair in 1923. Up until then, pretty much, British fashion was stuffy; we’d got a rep for exquisite tailoring but womenswear aired on the side of boring. Hartnell shook things up with his maverick collections, featuring lavish embroidery and a distinct form of luxury in comparison to the mundanity of wholesale clothing at that time.


Norman Hartnell by Gemma Champ

But it was during the austerity of post-war Britain where Hartnell had the most impact. Amidst the grey despair Hartnell dazzled with his couture collections, going on to design Queen Elizabeth‘s wedding dress in 1947 and the glorious coronation gown, featuring intricate and embellished motifs to represent each Commonwealth state, now famous internationally by Cecil Beaton‘s iconic photographs.


Norman Hartnell by Anna Wand

In this exhibition, there’s much to see of Hartnell‘s breathtaking evening gowns. Equally and if not more interesting are his utility pieces of the post-war era: striking suits that broke the boundaries of rationed fashion. These examples, like grey and blue two-piece suits, brought the style and glamour of 1950s Paris to London while still conforming to strict fabric regulations.


Hardy Amies by Gemma Champ

In the modern era, the baton was passed to Hardy Amies, who began his career at British tailors Lachasse before launching his own label. Amies is perhaps more famous for his luxurious no.14 Savile Row menswear than couture frocks, but it was the award of Royal Warrant of dressmaker in 1955 that propelled Amies to fame, designing the outfit worn by the Queen for her official Silver Jubilee portrait, immortalised on countless mugs, tea towels, biscuit tins, Andy Warhol prints and in the history books.


Hardy Amies by Norman Parkinson


Hardy Amies by Sandra Contreras

The exhibition brings together these two British fashion major players with ease. The focus is as much on the style of individual items as it is telling a story, and the exhibition fuses together the craftsmanship and expertise of Hartnell and Amies beautifully, presenting much of their work side by side.

Upstairs, small cabinets pay tribute to the work of milliner Frederick Fox. Australian-born, but with a strong British aesthetic, Fox might best be known for the tulip hat worn by the queen during Silver Jubilee celebrations in 1977 – a now iconic piece of millinery: revolutionary then, god-awful now, but a great arrow in this exhibition’s bow. It’s presented alongside a number of Fox‘s other pieces, many with a more fashion-forward edge worn by celebrities and royalty alike.

There’s also a host of other artefacts to glare at as you make your way around the museum, including personal notes between the Queen and her tailors, sketches by both designers, jewellery, shoes and books. 2013 also marks legendary fashion photographer Norman Parkinson‘s 100th birthday. The lecture room upstairs in the FTM hosts a series of Parkinson photographs of British fashion designers, including Hartnell and Amies and many other greats. It’s definitely worth a look and is the perfect conclusion to this landmark exhibition.

All images © Norman Parkinson Limited/Courtesy Norman Parkinson Archive.

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