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…
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
We enjoyed the bold burnt-orange of a crisp silk blouse
and seeing elegant construction solutions to make a lace evening dress as functional as it is beautiful.
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?