Tailoring with Savile Row Tailors: The Hardy Amies Archive

Readers,

Perhaps there’s an extra bedroom in your home stuffed with the paraphernalia of your sewing career: bolts of fabric, an old dress form, a sewing machine you no longer use but would never part with, garments you made that represent old sewing dreams (or nightmares), samples of fancy embroidery designs for  special outfits, boxes of swatches for the important client you used to sew for, those fashion sketches you used to do, a scrapbook…

Hardy Amies Ltd., 14 Savile Row

Hardy Amies Ltd., 14 Savile Row

There’s hardly a square foot of clear floor space to get around, and you keep promising yourself you’ll put all of this in good order someday. But  whenever you do need something, you can put your hand on it. And besides, you’re too busy getting things sewn to play curator, anyway.

What sewer can't relate to the challenges of storing fabric?

What sewer can’t relate to the challenges of storing fabric?

My advice would be to follow the example of Hardy Amies Ltd., call this agglomeration your archive, and consider the job done.

After touring four leading tailoring companies two days earlier, I felt like I’d had a prime rib dinner: traditional, substantial, and long to digest . Our class’s late-morning visit to the Hardy Amies archive felt to me, by contrast, like the Victoria sponge cake we would share at our last lunch together as a class: traditional, too, but lighter, prettier, and prompting smiles.

A Hardy Amies fashion sketch

A Hardy Amies fashion sketch

Playing docent was Antonia, a cutter (if I recall correctly) for the fashion house; she advises and measures customers for men’s bespoke tailoring.  Hardy Amies Ltd. no longer produces women’s wear, which I think a pity. If you don’t know Hardy Amies’ fantastic work of the 1940s and ’50s, check out some boards on Pinterest. But come back here; you’ll want to see this.

As the eight of us distributed ourselves the best we could in the tiny space, Antonia quickly recounted the career of Hardy Amies (1909-2003), which included facts about his famously tailoring his military uniforms in World War II and having financial backing to launch his own business from Cary Grant’s first (ex-) wife, Virginia Cherrill.

Antonia showed us Amies’ treadle sewing machine and motioned toward the rolls of fabric stacked on shelves making a fabulous sewing stash, but moved on quickly to the atlas-sized book with “THE QUEEN” stamped in gold on the cover.

A title that speaks volumes

A title that speaks volumes

When I asked three of my classmates, all British subjects, “When you think of Hardy Amies, what comes to mind?” their answers were

  • the Queen
  • the Queen, and
  • the Queen

    Not just anyone's dress form

    Not just anyone’s dress form

The Queen was Hardy Amies’ most famous client. Those bright-colored outfits (the better to be seen by crowds), with the coordinating hats and handbags–those were his.

Her Majesty the Queen--HMQ for short.

Her Majesty the Queen–HMQ for short.

Now our little group crowded around a scrapbook of photos and sometimes swatches of dresses and suits Amies designed for the Queen for public appearances at home and abroad.

Antonia, our informative and entertaining guide.

Antonia, our informative and entertaining guide.

I'm wondering about the man on the ladder in the background.

Are you wondering, as I am, about the man in the background on the ladder?

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So many occasions to dress for.

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Beautiful, comfortable, and elegant.

The sketch and a swatch

It starts with a sketch and a swatch.

Center: the Queen in the finished dress

I think the sketch at top shows the dress in the center photo.

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Maintaining dignity and elegance in spite of the elements.

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The press was often wowed.

It was especially fun to see swatches with the photo of the garment.

It was especially fun to see swatches with the photo of the garment to see colors and textures accurately.

Sometimes the photos misrepresented the colors. This blue is so vivid.

Sometimes the photos misrepresented the colors. This blue is so vivid.

From the Queen's USA trip in 1983, a departure from clean, simple lines. The press was not kind.

From the Queen’s USA trip in 1983, a departure from clean, simple lines. The press was not wowed this time. Under the bow are the words “The offending bow.”

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When my classmates said Amies designed for the Queen, this kind of outfit came to mind.

I didn’t grow up in the British Commonwealth and was never a royals watcher–well, with one exception. When I was a college student in London in 1978 I got to see the Queen riding in an open carriage through the streets with Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceaucescu on his state visit.

A very uncomfortable moment for the Queen. Was the color of her jacket a neutral?

A very uncomfortable moment for the Queen. Was the color of her jacket a neutral?

I can’t say I remember what she wore. But in this photo from the Daily Mail the cut of the jacket certainly resembles the purple one in the album. Could it have been a Hardy Amies? Dependably elegant and dignified regardless of the circumstances?

This jacket has a wealth of design details.

This jacket has a wealth of design details.

But back to the archive. Antonia showed us some other womenswear pieces, and I realize now I assumed these were in production, but maybe they were individual commissions.

I love this pocket.

I love this pocket.

In either case, I admired the work in this jacket, which, unfortunately, my photographs don’t adequately convey. The main fabric is a tiny check or houndstooth, but part of the side panel is in a glen plaid. It’s a subtle pattern mix with the confidence to wait for you to discover it. We liked the pocket design, and the box pleating at the cuffs and at the hem of the coordinating skirt that reminded me of the box pleating I’ve done in soft furnishings.

Box pleating distinguishes this skirt.

Box pleating distinguishes this skirt.

We enjoyed the bold burnt-orange of a crisp silk blouse

I think this is from the '80s.

I think this is from the ’80s.

and seeing elegant construction solutions to make a lace evening dress as functional as it is beautiful.

Providing support while maintaining elegance-that's the challenge of constructing evening wear.

Providing support while maintaining elegance-that’s the challenge of constructing evening wear.

And Antonia showed us how comfortable and flattering a Hardy Amies dress is to wear.IMG_4887 (460x345)

Listening to Antonia’s stories of working in the village that is Savile Row, we wondered whether the archive provided a welcome retreat some days from high doses of masculinity. She agreed it did, and although she didn’t admit playing dress-up, she didn’t deny it, either. If she does, who could blame her?

Don't you just want to look into those boxes?

Don’t you just want to look into those boxes?

Backstage at the Goldstein: Merry and Bright

Readers,

Here is another item from the Goldstein Museum of Design that I came across when I was working on the donor files project. It is one of several hats, all from the 1950s or ’60s, donated by Mrs. John Gill.

(Note to self: find her first name!)

Of all Mrs. Gill’s hats–at least, of all the ones photographed so far for the Goldstein’s image database–only one is of “normal” size. The rest, including this one, are miniature masterpieces.christmashat4 (368x460)

I’m assuming she chose these for herself and that she wore them. I do hope she wore them.

Of course, at the time of their making, wearing hats was a norm–not something you had to be particularly brave to do.christmashat3 (368x460)

(That reminds me: in Minneapolis about twenty years ago I was walking through Dayton’s department store wearing a handsome olive-colored felt hat–a Homburg?–by Eric Javits. A woman admired my hat and then told me,  “I wish I had the courage to wear a hat.” Gosh.)

Looking at her hats, I wonder what kind of person Mrs. John Gill was.

Judging from this hat in particular, surely she must have had a sense of humor.  A humorless person wouldn’t give this a second glance, let alone buy it and wear it.christmashat2 (368x460)

I also see her having a strong sense of style and fashion confidence. You wouldn’t wear this and expect to melt into the crowd (at least not the crowds I’m around), after all.

I wonder where this hat was on display, waiting for the right wearer to come along. What salesperson in the hat department shared that moment of triumph when Mrs. John Gill perched this confection on her head, arranged the flirty netting over her face, admired her reflection in the mirror and said, “Yes–I’ll take it!”?

I wonder what Mrs. John Gill wore with this. Where did she wear it? And what did people say?christmashat1 (368x460)

Most of all, I wonder who fashioned this bit of millinery whimsy. The museum record states, sadly, “Artist/Maker: Unknown.”

Dear Unknown Artist/Maker, wherever you may be, thank you for this example of dexterous wit.

And thank you, too, Mrs. John Gill–and Goldstein Museum of Design–for safekeeping it for our enjoyment.

To see other hats donated to the Goldstein by Mrs. John Gill:

  • Click here: http://goldstein.design.umn.edu/
  • Hover over the Collection tab.
  • Click on Search the Collection
  • In the Word Search box type Gill. Click on Search.
  • There will be 41 records, some of which have images.

(All photographs by the Goldstein Museum of Design.)

Backstage at the Goldstein: The Gift of a Hat

Readers,

I came across this delightful and touching story of an American GI buying a Paris hat for his wife in 1944 when I was working on a large files project at the Goldstein Museum of Design, which is on the St. Paul campus of the University of Minnesota.

Tres chic!

Tres chic!

I don’t remember now whether I first saw this handwritten account by the husband, Thomas McCart, and photographs of his wife, Melva McCart, in a file folder or in the Goldstein’s image database. At any rate, the story stuck with me when I came across it earlier this year. It deserves a wider audience.

This is a perfect little story of a giver, a gift, and a recipient.MadameSuzyHat3 (364x460)MadameSuzyHat1 (307x460)MadameSuzyHat4 (353x460)MadameSuzyHat2 (307x460)MadameSuzyHat5 (353x460)

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Did she make her suit?

Look at that shoulder line!

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Even the label design is beautiful.

To see these and more photographs up close, go to the Goldstein Museum of Design database:

  • Click here to go to the home page of the Goldstein Museum of Design
  • Click on the tab Collection
  • Click on Search the Collection
  • In the Word Search box, type McCart
  • The record for this hat will appear. Click on the photo of the hat
  • You will see more detail than you can see in this post.

All photographs by the Goldstein Museum of Design.

Mindful Entertainment

Readers,

The project I’m working on at the moment is so boring (a pants muslin) that I can hardly bear to write about it, much less take pictures of it.  Maybe a professional could style and light a pants muslin brilliantly, but I sure can’t.

Great-fitting pants: worth the effort to make, of course, but not exciting to write about.

Great-fitting pants: worth the effort to make, of course, but not exciting to write about.

The interesting part of sewing pants is, frankly, getting them done.  For my figure, simpler lines in skirts and pants work best. Jackets, vests, coats, tops, dresses, hats, and scarves allow much greater creative range and challenge for me.

To get through the boring parts of projects I like to take breaks by visiting the Vintage Patterns Wiki.  Browsing page after page of vintage pattern envelope illustrations is, I was going to say, mindless entertainment, but actually, it’s the opposite for me. It’s mindful entertainment: I have loads of fun looking at pictures intently and picking out the ones I like the most.

I copy and paste the images of my favorite pattern designs into a Microsoft OneNote notebook I set up for myself for wardrobe and sewing ideas, and add comments that are keyword-searchable.

In pants, simpler is better for me. Tops are where I put the distinctive details.

In pants, simpler is better for me. Tops are where I put the distinctive details.

I can impulsively add any pattern illustrations I like, and if I change my mind, delete them later. Over time I can see which patterns have staying power and whether they have common elements that suggest a wardrobe direction.

Recently I’ve been browsing vintage blouse patterns, to use great fabrics from my stash and to go with jackets I’ve made or am planning to make. What great choices the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s offered! And so many would fit effortlessly into today’s wardrobes.

Here are some of the blouses that caught my eye.  Long live Vintage Pattern Wiki!

1950s. Nice on its own or under a jacket.

1952. Nice on its own or under a jacket.

1952. A chance to use beautiful vintage buttons.

1952. A chance to use beautiful vintage buttons.

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1953. Vogue Couturier Design 774. The blouse has a simple shape but has that extra detail that makes it special. When I look at a design like this I think, “I’m glad I sew!” because  I can choose to make this.

1944. The masculine shoulder line of the war years is balanced by gathers and frills.

1944. The masculine shoulder line of the war years is balanced by gathers and frills.

1930s. The importance of a jacket without all the work of tailoring. Interesting collar/lapels, and a chance to use vintage buttons.

1930s. The importance of a jacket without all the work of tailoring. Interesting collar/lapels, and a chance to use vintage buttons.

1930s. It's less the blouse in this case as it's the high-waisted skirt that completes the ensemble that grabs me.

1930s. It’s not the blouse alone; it’s the combination with  the high-waisted skirt that I really like here.

1954. A convertible hood. I like the idea, but would this look good on me, or just strange?

1954. A convertible hood. I like the idea, but would this look good on me, or just strange?

1952. Vogue Paris Original Model 1162. The jacket is gorgeous, but Schiaparelli made the blouse a stunner, too.

1952. Vogue Paris Original Model 1162. The jacket is gorgeous, but Schiaparelli made the blouse a stunner, too.

1952. A nice way to bring the eye up.

1952. One way to bring the eye up.

1953. The diagonal stripes go in the other direction but also bring the eye up.

1957. Could this be a candidate for drapey knits as well as wovens?

1957. Could this be a candidate for drapey knits as well as wovens?

Backstage at the Goldstein: Tutti Frutti

Readers,

Yummy.

Cheery.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been volunteering weekly in the offices of the Goldstein Museum of Design on the St. Paul campus of the University of Minnesota, tidying up the donor files.  The Goldstein collection includes furniture, textiles, silver and ceramics, but the largest part is clothing and accessories. The files I see each week contain the paperwork–deeds of gift, acknowledgment letters, and inventories of donations–involved in changing the ownership of property.

Inside the cherry hat.

Inside the cherry hat.

Every week I find something in a file–the original charge slip for a hat, an obituary, a yellowed society page showing a bride in the wedding gown that’s now in the Goldstein’s care–that personalizes the donation. Today I paged through the file of a donor who’d left the Goldstein the dress she wore at the 1953 presidential  inaugural ball. The folder was thick with special edition newspaper sections and inaugural programs saved for sixty years.

Delectable.

Delectable.

Many other files are thin and nondescript. There may, however, be photos of the donations online that tell a lot about the donor’s taste, travels, or family connections.

The Goldstein’s collections are gradually being documented in photos. It’s always a treat to look up a donor and find items that have been prepared and photographed so beautifully.

Especially when I see hats I think of the moment the wearer looked at herself approvingly in the mirror at the hat shop and decided, “Yes, this is the one.”

Today I came across the records of these two 1950s hats embellished with fruits of summer:

  • Catalog no. 2004.022.003: From 1950, by Elsa Schiaparelli: “White Hat with White Beading and Strawberry & Vine Design.”

    Bella!

    Bella!

  • Catalog no. 1979.015.019: From 1957-51959, by Peck & Peck: “Natural Straw Boater-Style Hat With A Black Velvet Ribbon Around Crown With Streamers and Fake Cherry Cluster Decoration.”

A few weeks back I discovered this suit with these delightful strawberry buttons:

  • Catalog no. 2003.052.035a-b: From 1990-1995, by Franco Moschino: “White cotton pique jacket with strawberry buttons and short skirt.”

Scrumptious.

Delizioso!

Delizioso!

 

There are more photographs of each of these items in the Goldstein Museum of Design database.  Go to the home page, click on the Collection tab, then “Search the Collection,” and then enter the catalog numbers.

All photographs are by the Goldstein Museum of Design.