Britain’s leading couturier, Norman Hartnell (1901-1979) submitted designs for the wedding dress, one of which was approved in mid-August, less than three months before the wedding.
Hartnell visualised a bridal gown of fine pearl embroidery in a floral design, and cites as his inspiration Botticelli’s painting of Primavera, trailed with garlands of flowers. The dress was made from duchesse satin, ordered from the firm of Wintherthur, near Dunfermline.
Attached at the shoulders was the magnificent 13-foot embroidered silk tulle full court train. The silk for the appliqués was produced at Lullingstone Castle, Kent and woven by Warner & Sons. Hartnell first drew out the embroidery design with his head embroideress, Miss Flora Ballard, and describes how ‘the motifs had to be assembled in a design proportioned like a florist’s bouquet’.
The bride’s bouquet, offered to the Princess by the Worshipful Company of Gardeners, was made with white Cattleya, Odontoglossum and Cypripedium orchids. Myrtle was added from the bush grown from a sprig of the bouquet of Queen Victoria’s eldest daughter, the Princess Royal.
Interest in the design of the dress was unprecedented and Hartnell was forced to whitewash and curtain the windows of the workroom at his Bruton Street premises to ensure secrecy.
For the eight bridesmaids’ dresses Hartnell repeated the ethereal, delicate style of the wedding dress. He also designed the outfits for Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary.