The Life and Work of the London Couturier Norman Hartnell: Issues of Design, Business, Royal Patronage and Consumption 1924 – 1979
Funded by AHRC
Norman Hartnell (1901-1979) was Britain’s most celebrated couturier in the period 1938 to the early 1960s based in London. An investigation is proposed into the career and business of Hartnell as representative of the most successful levels of British couture between the wars and in the immediate post-war period. The Mayfair fashion house closed in 1992.
My investigation will track the relationship between the public and the private in the design work of Britain’s most prominent couturier, from cutting-edge, 1920s fashion designer to Royal dress-maker, the post-war peak of his career and the business’s decline during the 1960s-70s. Research into the design, production and retail of Hartnell couture will examine staff hierarchy and shifts in the consumption of couture within the context of cultural and social change in Britain, and the implications of the diffusion of his Royal style worldwide. Hartnell’s approaches to couture as a profit-making business and his failure to expand globally into retailing branded, licensed products and ready-to-wear at mid-market level successfully will be analysed.
Whilst the business of Hartnell’s closest rival in British couture, Hardy Amies, has survived his death to the present day, in the light of the recent closure of the House of Lachasse, Hardy Amies is the only British couture house (founded in 1945) remaining from the original eleven members of the Incorporated Society of London Fashion Designers, founded in 1942. This study will assess the ways in which Hartnell’s personal life, personality and personal and working relationships with staff and clients with a particular focus on Royal women determined his approach to the running of his couture business, and how these issues contributed both to the success and finally the collapse of the business. It will also examine the shifts in the consumption of couture, as a reflection of cultural changes in Britain.