I chanced upon a random local costume exhibition with a twist this weekend after seeing a friend's Instagram post. In our local historic guild hall, there was a two-day exhibition of Norman Hartnell's dresses, sketches and related items to raise funds for SSAFA, the Soldiers', Sailors and Airmen's Families Association. Norman Hartnell designer to Queen Elizabeth II and Princess Margaret. He was also Godfather to Claire Williams, branch secretary for the Devon branch hence the local event. She has a personal collection of dresses that he made for her, including her wedding and bridesmaids dresses, dresses she wore as a child with matching doll's frocks- all beautifully detailed with embroidery, original artwork with designs for the then Princess Elizabeth, needlework (beaded, gold work) from his couture house and evening dresses through the decades. There were about 15 dresses all wonderful to look at but difficult to photograph as the lighting wasn't great, but an enjoyable and unexpected local display for £5 entry. In an upstairs room, there was an unexpected bonus extra of illustrations and a doll from a 1943 exhibition...
The original exhibition comprised of 20 dolls wearing international costumes, interpreted and designed by Hartnell, sewn at his London couture house with the spirit of make do and mend using the scraps from dresses. It was sponsored by the Board of Trade with the aim of making connections between the London couture house and the Latin American Fashion Markets whilst also raising money for SSAFA. The colour painted sketches have survived well. Again, difficult to photograph but you can get a flavour of the designs from this Bolivian costume painting.
This is a Hartnell with the Bolivian doll. You can see the level of detail in the clothes and accessories. The dolls were modelled by Helen Barclay and the faces painted by Hartnell.
The most amazing exhibit was the original Bolivia doll. I think she had only been recently discovered in storage and is now rather fragile and a little damaged but incredibly special to see. I think she is also the only surviving doll.
The exhibition ran from 1943-1946 and toured major cities in England and Scotland. This image is from that time, Queen Consort of King George VI with Norman Hartnell.
This is a local poster from when the exhibition came to Exeter. The entry was free so the money raised was through donations. It raised £10 000 for SSAFA in total which seems like a large amount for the time- the final years of world war two and just after.
The other sketches were rather wonderful- this is Peru...
I was rather taken with this preparatory sketch for Mexico. The face reminds me of the actress Joan Crawford, very popular at this time.
I'm not really a royal fan, but I do like costume and history and this was such a quirky episode of fashion and wartime, a hidden gem!