Monday, 19 November 2012

Hartnell to Amies: Couture by Royal Appointment

If you love vintage couture then this is one London exhibition not to be missed.

The Hartnell to Amies exhibition at the Fashion and Textile Museum in Bermondsey is a retrospective of London couture created by Norman Hartnell, Hardy Amies and milliner Frederick Fox.  It showcases a range of works by these iconic designers who stole the fashion hearts of both British Royalty and socialites and who, with the Queen’s patronage, managed to re-establish Britain as an international fashion centre after WWII.

Up until the 1920’s it was the Parisian designers who reigned supreme, but Hartnell was hot on their polished heels when he opened his first London salon in 1923.

Highlights of his earlier designs on display are:

The romantic embellished silk satin wedding dress for Oonagh Guinness in 1929 - inspired by Botticelli’s paintings and the sparkling evening dress embroidered all over with gold pailettes - worn by H.M. Queen Mary c.1935.

Moving on to the 40s, the garments are less flamboyant due to wartime rationing of fabric, but both Hartnell and Amies used their skills to ensure style and design were not affected, including  practical tailored suits which  emphasised the feminine silhouette.

Highlight by Hardy Amies:

A Prince of Wales checked fine woollen suit worn by Hollywood actress Mildred Shay. We think of slogans/words on attire as a fairly new trend but look closely at the lapels and you will see ‘Made In England’ featured into the exposed selvedge. 

Celebrating the end of the war, the 50’s designs showed a return to the generous use of fabric and glamour. Poster copies of Norman Parkinson’s photographs adorn the exhibition’s walls and immortalise both Royal Couturiers as they pose with models wearing their 1953 spring collections. The originals were commissioned by British Vogue to celebrate the year of Queen Elizabeth’s Coronation.

The exhibition moves on to the swinging 60’s with shorter cocktail dresses; the groovy 70’s with maxi evening dresses and the power style of the 80’s.  For the 80’s, Raine, Countess of Spencer lends her Aimes monochrome abstract floral silk evening dress with its enormous puffed sleeves - so on trend at the time. Whilst Sarah, Duchess of York lends her twinkling Aimes strapless evening dress looking delicate in an off white William Morris pattern. Also on display is a pale blue suit with wide shoulders and deep yolk collar in white with a tie front - replicating the Aimes original worn by Lady Diana Spencer for her engagement photographs.

We must take our hats off to milliner Frederick Fox who has designed hats for the Queen, the late Queen Mother and Diana Princess of Wales. On display are over thirty of his creations plus a specially recreation of the silk crepe hat worn by the Queen for her Silver Jubilee in 1977.

The exhibition is on until 23 Feb 2013 so you have plenty of time to see it.  More details can be found on

Images credit: © Norman Parkinson Limited/Courtesy Norman Parkinson Archive.

By Karen Grace
Personal Shopper & Image Consultant for Frumpy to Funky

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