A life in the archive
: the dress, design and identity of the London couturier Norman Hartnell, 1921-1979

  • Jane Hattrick

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


The London couturier, Sir Norman Bishop Hartnell (1901-1979) is famous today
for dressing Their Majesties Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother (1900-2002) and
the current British Monarch, Elizabeth II (1926) from 1937 until his death in
1979. His legacy is understood to lie in the establishment of the fixed British royal
style devised for Queen Elizabeth in 1937, still worn by Her Majesty the Queen
today. Hartnell was, however, far more than a provider of dress to British royalty.
Evidence in the form of bound volumes of international press cuttings extant in a
private archive indicates that he commanded great respect as a couture fashion
designer between 1923-1953. He was also the first British fashion designer to
attempt to develop as an international fashion brand in the immediate post war

Neither Hartnell’s production of two couture collections per year between 1923-
1979 and ready-to-wear from 1963 nor his signature looks or house style, have
been examined in-depth to date in terms of his legacy. This thesis unpicks
Hartnell’s work, closely analysing his sketched designs, fabric swatches,
embroideries, couture and ready-to-wear garments extant in a vast, privately
owned and relatively unknown archive.
Date of AwardOct 2011
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Brighton
SupervisorLou Taylor (Supervisor) & Louise Purbrick (Supervisor)

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