when busts were déclassé

Norman Hartnell, the Queen’s dressmaker once summed up the shape of the 1920s by saying “If Sabrina (also known as Juliet with a built-in balcony) had lived in those days she would have been obliged to stay indoors.”


The dresses of the twenties involved designers in an arduous struggle against nature. It was the battle of the brassiere in reverse and half the dressmaker’s time was spent in making intricate contraptions of canvas and elastic to be fitted over any busts that showed signs of intransigence.


Yet according to Beverley Nichols there was one great woman and one great bust whose figure looms large over that period.

“Norman was busy and allowed me to wander around his pleasantly regal establishment in Burton Street. I found myself in a deserted room filled with busts labelled “Countess of X”, “Madame de P” and The Hon Mrs Q”. I realised I was in the most rarified atmosphere of la haute couture. The great ladies of town were all far too busy to come and be fitted in person; when they wanted a new dress the copies of their bust got all the boredom and pin pricks while they roared off to Ascot instead.

Garbo 1920

My eyes lit upon a bust standing all by itself in a corner. It was reverently wrapped in a lot of brown paper, even so, there was something about this object that seemed vaguely familiar. It looked the sort of bust that would stand no nonsense. It had an aura of majesty.


Then Norman came into the room and I suddenly realised who the bust was. “I say, isn’t that Queen M…..” The name froze on my lips. It was of course, but Norman never discussed his royal clients. To own a bust was considered extremely déclassé; it was worse than a mirror or a mantlepiece and nearly as bad as a lounge.


Published in: on November 8, 2010 at 7:03 am  Comments (36)  
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