Hartnell and Amies exhibition

When one thinks of Couture its generally Paris that springs to mind, not London, but for a few dacades in the first half of the Twentieth Century London came close to holding its own against those pesky Parisian fashion houses. Spearheaded by Hardy Amies and Norman Hartnell some fabulous fashion was created, with fine tailoring, intricate embroidery, and some of the most elegant ballgowns you ever did see. Patronised by the Great and the (probably not so) Good, including Royalty, Hartnell and Amies were important players in stylish circles.

From late 2012 until last month the Fashion and Textile Museum in London celebrated the fashions of Hartnell and Amies in their exhibition ’Hartnell to Amies: Couture by Royal Appointment’. I’d been itching to see the exhibition since I heard it was going to be on, but I only managed to make it there in the final week of the exhibition.

The exhibition included designs by Hartnell and Amies from the 1920s through to 1961.  A case of embroidery samples made by Hartnell’s studio for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953 set the tone for the exhibition

Embroidery Samples for the Coronation, Hartnell 1953

There were numerous embroidery samples created for State occasions and official visits, always by Hartnell (clearly the Queen’s go-to guy for this!) 

Embroidered panel for an official visit to Italy, Hartnell 1961

Hartnell, 1957, detail from an embroidered panel for the Queen’s visit to Canada

Perhaps is worth explaining at this point that in Fashion beading counts as embroidery!

So moving on from my embroidery envy, I wandered into a room FULL of exquisite tailoring and elegant evening wear: It was like heaven!

Rather than writing lots of unnecessary prose it seems best to just show you what I mean, so picture alert!

Amies Highwayman’s style coat. Wool barathea with velvet collar and beaded decoration, 1948

Detail of Hardy Amies wool barathea coat, 1948


Taupe fine wool with embroidered details, Hartnell, 1946


Hartnell satin organza and silver corded lace wedding gown, 1956

Hartnell designs
L to R: 1959 gown, White gown with vermicelli pattern crystal beading (Hartnell’s favourite design of 1959), Sky blue and white silk faille gown with matching coat 1953, Satin organza wedding gown 1956

John Cavanagh design 1962

Hartnell and his models, Parkinson for Vogue 1953

Black wool suit with embroidered pockets, Hartnell 1948

I hope that gave you a sense of some of the ‘Best of British’! The embroidery and embellishment was particularly stunning: Some absolutely exquisite work. If you want to see more I believe the Victoria and Albert Museum has some examples of clothing by both Hartnell and Amies, or we’ll have to campaign for the return of this show!

This entry was posted in Events, Fashion History, Womenswear. Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.