Monday, November 9
Silver and Gold
Neither an early post about Christmas decorations, nor a comment on economic conditions: Silver and Gold is Norman Hartnell's book about his career as British fashion designer, most notably as Dressmaker to the Royals.
The book is illustrated with photographs and Hartnell's sketches, and each description is a little morsel of deliciousness. Here is Her Majesty the Queen in an afternoon dress of duck-egg blue and brown printed taffeta; there, an evening dress of swathed and gathered peach-pink organza. Another sketch shows the young queen in a mimosa tulle dress, and, for a Royal Visit to Norway, June, 1955, an evening dress of embroidered ice-blue satin with plain satin drapery and panel.
Hartnell began designing costumes for theater in the 1930's. His career as designer to royalty began when he designed the wedding dress for Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Gloucester in 1935, and reached its apex with the design of Queen Elizabeth's coronation gown in 1953.
If you are interested in fashion, fashion design, textiles, embroidery, or theater you'll enjoy this book, with its gossipy backstage glimpses of the Royals, descriptions of wartime shortages and improvisationg
This book may not appeal to everyone, as suggested by its storage at the Minnesota Library Access Center (MLAC -- virtual tour here), the huge climate-controlled storage area at the U of M.
To get a glimpse at some of the sketches and illustrations, go to this post on Hartnell on the blog "Worn Through--Apparel from an academic perspective," where Heather Vaughan has posted 18 wonderful pages of sketches scanned from the book.
I like Hartnell's enthusiastic and slightly loopy prose style:
". . . [at the Coronation] I took my seat in the Queen's Box whither I had been ushered by Gold Staff officers.
". . . I was thankful to be early in getting to the Abbey to witness the arrival of all these noble men and women so gorgeously arrayed. Why didn't every one of them, every day, dress like this at breakfast time? What is the merit of choosing the drab when beauty hangs in the wardrobe?
"I have never seen anything so transcendentally beautiful in my life. One after another the peeresses glide up the bright blue carpet, trailing their robes of crimson velvet, and hasten to their allotted seats like rubies in a hurry. Opposite are row on row of peeresses mounting towards the very roof. They look like a lovely hunk of fruit cake; the damson jam of the velvet, bordered with the clotted dream of ermine and sprinkled with the sugar of diamonds. On my left are the peers, attired in their masculine version of ermine and velvet, their jam puff coronets nestling in their laps."
You might enjoy this sweet and a little silly (a lovely hunk of fruit cake? jam puff coronets?) trip back in time to Hartnell's world of color, textiles, fashion design, and royalty.