Saturday, September 4, 2010

Inspiration: Norman Hartnell Cocktail Dress


There was such a wealth of gorgeous garments in the Golden Age of Couture show at the Frist that I'm quite overwhelmed by the thought of writing a post on my impressions of the exhibit as a whole. Instead, I thought I would highlight my favorites in individual posts. And what better way to start than this gorgeous early 50s dress, designed by Norman Hartnell and worn by Princess Margaret?

I would call this dress deceptively simple. It looks at first like a perfectly lovely LBD . . . but then its genius sneaks up on you. You notice the scalloped hem, which I believe our docent said was made by inserting godets into ten gores. When the skirt is spread out, it resembles a flower with lots of petals. Then you notice the lovely bodice shaping. The darts are unconventional; they form a chevron beneath the bust. And then there's the lovely, but subtle, pleating above the bust, where the straps begin.


In fact, by the time you've taken in all the lovely construction details, I would say the least dazzling thing about this dress is the sequin and diamante-encrusted straps.

My teacher Sharon and I were drooling over the exhibit catalog this morning, and I couldn't stop talking about this particular dress. She noticed, and suggested we go about recreating the pattern in our draping lessons. Yes, please! So that's what we'll be working on, starting next week. Don't you think a plum-colored wool satin would be just the thing? Stay tuned! (And stand by for more posts on the garments in the exhibit. I have a lot I want to show you!)

24 comments:

  1. Gertie! It's beautiful! I hope that you are able to create a pattern, and then sell it to people such as myself who are not so clever at creating patterns!

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  2. That was one of my favorites, too!

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  3. Wow! Those structural details are really amazing- especially the darts. I can't wait to see what you guys come up with next, especially with that as your inspiration!

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  4. Tuesday can NOT get here fast enough! I'm looking forward to this exhibit.

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  5. Oh Gertie this is so lovely and those dart's are lovely. Thanx so much for sharing... i can't wait till i'm not so busy so i can get involved with this draping fun to... have i ever told you how much i love your blog x

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  6. Definitely an awesome dress! I'm looking forward to seeing you recreate it!

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  7. Those chevron darts are a dream. I can't wait to see what's next!

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  8. These pictures are going straight into the 'inspiration' file, thanks so much for sharing!

    I probably really need to just get this exhibit catalogue.

    And plum wool satin?????? Oh drool! Oh be still my heart! Do you have the fabric already, or do you just know where you can get it? Can you tell me where to get it? Do they have online/mail order? I LOVE LOVE LOVE wool satin, but it's not the most plentiful fabric out there.

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  9. If you had just said plum-coloured wool satin and not even mentioned the stunning dress, you'd have had me!

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  10. I love this dress too! I was thinking of using it as my model in my draping class. We will have to compare notes! Though mine doesn't start until the 20th.

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  11. So lovely - the details are indeed stunning, and understandably inspiring. I've done some draping, and moving darts around is one of the best things.
    I need to echo the sentiment of plum wool satin - where oh where can you find such treasure?

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  12. Oh my god!!!!! this dress is very nice... I love it... Thanks for look..
    Hugs
    Deni

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  13. *love sigh* Super duper in love with it.

    xo Mavy
    http://dialogueswithafruitcake.blogspot.com/

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  14. Can't wait to see your result!

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  15. Re: the wool satin. I know you can buy it online at NY Fashion Center Fabrics, but be prepared for sticker shock. It ain't cheap!

    http://www.nyfashioncenterfabrics.com/gensym-112.html

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  16. Gasp, gasp! Gorgeous! And wool satin? What a revelation -- I've never heard of it before!

    You'll be making it my size, right? :)

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  17. I can't wait to see this take shape - the original is so beautiful and that shape suits you so well. I can quite see why you can't get this frock out of your mind.

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  18. I just had to scrape my jaw off the floor. Gorgeous, and the construction details are amazing.

    Also, I've never even heard of wool satin, but now I'm intrigued. Sounds like one of those fabrics you have to live near a major garment district to see in person....

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  19. GORGEOUS!!! I agree; the construction details are really impressive and striking on this design. I've been contemplating making a dress with some different darts lately, and (oddly enough) this particular center front dart style has been jumping out at me from one of my early 60s pattern drafting textbooks. It's such an unusual way of controlling the fullness... I can't wait to see what you drape--I think this style will look amazing on you--especially in plum wool! ;)

    ♥ Casey
    blog | elegantmusings.com

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  20. greetings gertie, i am a new reader and i love your blog.

    i live in nashville, and because of my job as a theatrical costumer and patternmaker i have been fortunate enough to see the dress off the mannequin. the skirt is not made with godets, it is 10 fitted gores, with each gore being scalloped. it is more than 360 degrees at the hem, the fullness is about 160" but hard to measure because of the scallops.

    the scallops are not all the same size, the width and depth have been adjusted to account for the curve of the hips. in this way they all hang evenly and have the same visual fullness when on the body.

    the fitting darts are the pleats you see directly above the bust point. the chevron darts at the center are decorative, not functional.

    hopefully this information will help you as you make your pattern. i would not bother draping this one--it is way simpler to just draft. i myself will be making a skirt like this to wear with a different bodice for a winter evening dress.

    good luck! i look forward to your pictures.

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  21. Rowena, thank you for those details! You're a doll! I totally wouldn't have guessed that the chevron darts are purely decorative.

    I think I might drape the bodice and flat pattern the skirt. We'll see.

    Thanks again!

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  22. This dress is so pretty! Can't wait to see the one you make.

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Thanks for your comments; I read each and every one! xo Gertie

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