Collecting and displaying identity, intimacy and memory in the staged interiors of the royal couturier Norman Hartnell

Jane Hattrick

Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference proceeding with ISSN or ISBNChapter


Norman Hartnell was Britain’s largest and most celebrated couture house based in London’s Mayfair between 1923 and 1992. In 2005, I discovered Hartnell’s lost company and personal archive, containing elements of every aspect of his private and working life. This is currently in private hands in an empty house that was once lived in by Hartnell’s business partner and friend George Mitchison. My doctoral research took place in the house where Hartnell has slept, surrounded by hundreds of decorative objects once belonging to him. These include not only items in the paper archive, but also decorative art objects and furniture collected, displayed and loved by Hartnell, which were both part of his self-fashioning and constructed identity and also a reflection of the character of his couture designs. This chapter considers the collecting practices of Hartnell within the context of the construction and self-presentation of his public persona as the most celebrated royal couturier between 1935 and 1953, an aspect of his life not critically discussed to date. It will touch on how he used the collection and display of objects within his private domestic interiors and his use of particular decorative styles as an expression of his identity, and to perform his subjectivity and sexual selfhood; a similarly undiscussed, yet fundamentally important issue in terms of Hartnell's life and work. This chapter also examines these same objects and pieces of furniture in the present day, inherited as part of Hartnell's estate by the man who shared his private, social and working life, George Mitchison. These objects have travelled through time taking on new layers of meaning, and an analysis of how they are displayed in Mitchison's hom, within similarly decorated interiors, over seventy years after they first appeared in descriptions and photographs of Hartnell's homes throws up issues of embodiment, self-hood, taste and identity politics.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationNarrating objects, collecting stories
EditorsSandra H. Dudley, Amy Jane Barnes, Jennifer Vinnie, Julia Petrov, Jennifer Walklate
Place of PublicationAbingdon
Number of pages17
ISBN (Print)9780415692717
Publication statusPublished - 24 May 2012


  • archive
  • collecting
  • self-promotion
  • taste
  • identity
  • networks


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