FashionField trips

Tailoring with Savile Row Tailors: The Hardy Amies Archive

By February 1, 2014 July 13th, 2020 6 Comments


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.

IMG_4857 (345x460)

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?


  • Avatar Shelly says:

    What a fabulous experience! Inspiring to see the sketch, the swatch and the photo. When I start sewing again. I am going to do that! What a great way to remember things that eventually move on. I think back on all of the wonderful projects that I completed in the peak of my sewing days and wish I would have had the foresight to document this. It may ease the resentment and regret that I feel for getting rid of that wardrobe, of a self expressed, well dressed younger version of me!

  • Loved this blog. Some great photos on a subject that I find fascinating. I am always amazed at the planning that goes into deciding the Queen’s wardrobe for her many visits. The fact that she re-uses them for other occasions often many years after the first outing is also very interesting – just shows what can be done with good quality tailoring…and that nothing ever goes out of fashion. The workmanship that you have shown us is remarkable.

  • Avatar Marguerite says:

    I love Shelley ‘s thoughts! What fun it would be to have a documentation of all things sewn over a lifetime. And it really would not have taken a great deal of effort either when you think of it. My younger days were filled with great coats and suits that I needed for work and just gadabouting around as a much younger better dressed person! The queen’s outfits are really special.

    • Avatar Paula DeGrand says:

      It seems to me that the effort is in setting up whatever system makes the documentation easy so it doesn’t feel like more administration. It’s been my experience that by the time I’ve finished a garment I am so ready to be DONE that I give short shrift to the documentation. (Until I started a blog–but that’s another story!)

  • Avatar Shelly says:

    I am thinking of the documentation BEFORE the garment is complete.- Maybe a projects queue, then when it is done, it goes into a separate volume, with photo of self wearing the garment or item. It really would be quite easy. My fabric, pattern and even most of my button stash are photographed and cataloged and somewhat organized on my computer. I could easily pull photos together and create a collage for a future projects page. It would commit me to what to do with something and then I could just make it… or in this world….I could just….GET IT SEWN!

    • Avatar Paula DeGrand says:

      Yes, that’s it–have the documenting woven into the process rather than be an afterthought. I would love to hear from any readers who have done something like this, whether for personal reasons or in a work situation. I would ask them whether experiencing this documenting process has given them more perspective, or whether they had the personal or institutional perspective already, which dictated the process.
      Given that you already have your collections inventoried (holy cow!), it seems to me that you could derive even more value from your investment of effort by taking this next step. You have documented the supplies; now document the processes and results. (Then I’ll bug you to teach me!)

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