Carol Alayne

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Archive for September, 2008

Hardy Amies: A sad day for tailoring

Monday, September 29th, 2008

Hardy Amies, Savile RowIt was sad to read in the press over the weekend of the demise of the great fashion house Hardy Amies.   Reports in the Guardian and the Times painted a very gloomy picture, but somewhat different from the experiences I remember from when I had the good fortune to spend some time with them a few years back.

The talent throughout the business was outstanding and none more so than in the making rooms.  To quote from one of my past clients, the conductor Michael Tilson Thomas, “their performance just blew my mind!”

I remember working alongside “Pino” in the tailoring department who had a great rapport with the clients and the workers.  He had many years in the trade working on long runs of fashion lines and also in the more intimate setting of the bespoke cutting rooms.  This brought an authoritative mix of skills and solutions to the design briefs and his exhortations to “…work to a system!”  still ring in my ears along with sound of the old treadle machines.

The company also has many different facets therefore I find Jeff Banks comments in the Guardian a little puzzling when he talked about the brand becoming ‘mumsy’.  Bespoke, made to measure and accessories for men and women were all part of the mix.  And as far as the 2008 collection is concerned,  from its imagery, I am sure that there would be many a consort who would like a ‘mum’ like that on his arm.

If the company is finally broken up, I hope that the next incumbent to fill 14 Savile Row will bring as much to the trade as Sir Hardy.

Photo: thanks to

Mogi-san: Hair styling as art

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2008

Mogi-sanMy trip to Japan this year was filled with interesting places and people.  None more so than Mogi-san.  Masayuki Mogi was the first Japanese creative director for Vidal Sassoon, and in the 70’s was considered one of the world’s finest hair stylists with a client list that took him all over the globe.  He returned to Japan to start his own business and his chain of salons grace some of the more exclusive parts of Tokyo.  In particular he developed a signature style emphasising the natural, organic qualities of a person’s hair and he considers his work to be more on a level with sculpture and painting.

In fact his interest in all aspects of the Arts seems to permeate his whole business and social relationships, and his magazine, +ing (plusing), is full of enticing imagery and interesting comment.  He extends this credo to his staff too who are encouraged to write for the magazine and participate in a series of clients’ clubs devoted to food, theatre, music and the arts.

Mogi-san is also passionate about the production of better quality food and along with his wife Yoko-san, an equally accomplished make-up artist, and some of his staff I was treated to a sumptuous meal at his art gallery, The Attic; a unique three tiered space built from welded sheet steel.

Time for tweeds

Monday, September 22nd, 2008

Tweed skirtWith Autumn comes the opportunity to bring out some of the traditional tweeds, particularly for those people involved in country pursuits.   But what makes a tweed so special and reliable as opposed to other materials.

Essentially tweed is an fabric closer to its natural state with something of a rougher texture, and woven into either a plain or twill finish.  The particular combination of threads can produce an eye catching result often as a check or herringbone pattern.  It is quite warm and tends to retain the water repellent properties of the sheep from which it came!  Which is why it is so suitable for country sports.

Working with tweeds is particularly interesting because the cloth is quite robust – it moulds and shapes well and can handle the pressure and heat of the steam process.  The challenge is balancing out the inherent bulkiness of the fabric with Country tweedsthe delicacy of the design you want to create.

This four panel skirt I made recently is a good example of the sort of bias-cut garment one can produce.  Cutting tweed in this manner emphasises the stretchiness of the cloth which makes it technically more difficult to deal with, however it enables one to create a much more interesting ‘flow’ in the sculpturing of the garment.

These garments were made from a collection of particularly special tweeds I sourced some years ago.

Power Dressing, but does it empower

Sunday, September 21st, 2008

Joan CollinsThe Sunday Times (UK) Style section devoted a number of column inches to the do’s and don’ts for women who find themselves at the front of the political stage either as leader or consort.  It seems that once again the dilemma for high-profile women has surfaced; about giving the right sense of gravitas without appearing domineering, or warm and genuine as against frivolous and ‘fashiony’.  From some of the books I have collected about the psychology of clothing its background is long and complex.   This rarely seems to be a problem that confronts men.  What I question however is the term power dressing.  Is it not a dated term in itself?  Also, let’s not confuse the fact that the needs of the political band wagon are rather different from those of a shareholder meeting.

For me power dressing immediately conjures up a dated picture of big shoulders, tight waists and sculptured hair-dos that look not dissimilar from the City Hall building here in London, and with as much immobility!

It smacks of theatre with only a veneer of seriousness, and as I visit my clients in the City you can see that these financially challenging times require a degree of authenticity that suggests a ‘safe pair of hands’..

One of my clients articulated her dilemma well when she talked about walking into a room of 100 venture capitalists, all male apart from a handful of women, and all with the same, almost regular-issue pinstripe uniform.  Custom and practice has not given us the opportunity to develop a similar sort of iconic look, and in this the fashion industry has been no help.

“Real power dressing is about being smart and true to yourself, and the balance between the two is what makes it new. Work out what suits you, and don’t deviate” says the Times.  But what does this mean in practical terms, and where are the places a busy executive can go to build an appropriated wardrobe without spending vast amounts of time doing it.

So I would suggest that the journalist in the Times should perhaps look a little closer at the trading floors and boardrooms and consider the realities of the executive life-style, and whether or not the concept of power dressing may in reality be rather disempowering

Women tinkering with tailoring! Why not do it for real

Monday, September 8th, 2008

MarleneAnnie Hall” hit the mark perfectly some 30 years ago in the eponymous film by Woody Allen.   From top down, her combination of trilby, shirt and tie, waistcoat and chinos hooked a generation of women into the masculine look.  Although she was by no means the first person to do so.  Think of Marlene Dietrich and the allure of her androgynous cross-dressing.

It seems that every autumn the fashion press re-visits this theme of masculine dressing and it appeared again in the London Telegraph last week.

I find however that many of the images with which the world of fashion presents us rarely features the full potential of the tailoring tradition when it responds to the needs of the female form.

Historically the bespoke suit evolved to fit the male proportions with a cut and underlying structure that emphasised a strong shoulder line with sculptured upper body, and a defined waist which flattered and elongated the masculine silhouette.  This is still very much the case; however women require something that is altogether different.

When tailoring for women the shoulder line needs something much neater and more delicate, and as one moves down the torso from bust to hip the complexity of the female form and its natural asymmetries requires a much greater awareness of the subtle gradations of the all-round profile which then have to be transferred to a balanced pattern unique to the client.

Although there are obvious differences in requirements from client to client, in the short journey from shoulder to hip I have to take many more measures for a woman’s suit, different ones too, than I would for that of a man’s.  And on top of this tolerances have to built in to take into account the cyclical changes in a woman’s figure.

A frequent comment from my clients is that they feel “trussed up as if in a suit of armour”.  I would suggest that this need not be the case and that with greater attention to the point outlined above, and some modifications to the traditional internal structuring, a woman’s bespoke suit can be just as crisp as a man’s, giving a much more flattering and enjoyable “wearing experience” that responds even to the different way in which a woman moves.

Fashion may be one thing…the board room is another.

Lady Arabella Chandos. Senior Director – Old Master Paintings. Sotheby’s

Monday, September 8th, 2008

“I like to have a hand in the creation of my clothes and as you might expect from my work at Sotheby’s colours and textures play an integral role in my day to day life, and I wanted something a little different from my usual business clothes.”

“Sourcing the fabric is part of the fun, and Carol arranged for me to visit some of her preferred suppliers, some in Soho, and one in particular in Edgware; Joel’s.  The fabric I returned with was a French silk chiffon, vibrant lime shot with bright orange/gold!  Apparently chiffons have different weaving processes and unlike Italian chiffon, which is quite sheer, the French version retains the natural blemishes in the fabric adding to its character…almost like the brush stroke on a canvas if you like.”

“The next step is to sit down and decide how it will all fit into the design on which we have been working.  I really enjoy being a part of this process”

Kabuki and its costumes

Monday, September 8th, 2008

KabukiTo the East side of one of Tokyo’s business shopping districts, Ginza, is one of its oldest theatres; the Kabuki-za.  One of the few remaining venues for this traditional form of drama, people flock to see this elaborate and colourful mixture of theatre, music, dance and costume that originated in the early 17th century.  On my recent visit to Tokyo I had the good fortune to see it for the first time and it was fabulous.

In some ways it has much in common with Shakespearean theatre with a smattering of pantomime thrown in.  For complex historical reasons the parts are all played by men, even the women’s roles (onnagata), and the actors who take these parts, some of whom can be in their 70’s, are highly admired.  In Kabuki’s early history the costumes worn by the onnagata in performance were quite influential on the fashionable trends of the dayKabuki

The costumes can be extremely extravagant and in the play I attended, Onna Shibaraku, they extremely exaggerated in order to emphasise the ‘super-hero’ status of some of the characters.

As one might imagine in a theatrical context, there is a certain degree of sleight of hand with regard to the making of the garments.  From the audience’s perspective they look extremely opulent and as was the tradition of the day, they were many-layered.  In fact from a cost point of view it would have been impossible for a theatre company to afford garments made entirely from these expensive materials, so instead, apart from the outer kimono, only the edges of the undergarments that showed were made from these fabrics, a more economical solution being found for the rest.

There are lots of subtleties in design such as the cords built into some of the costumes which enable the technique known as ‘hikinuku’, where outer layers can be removed speedily by the black-clad stage attendants (deshi) by removing the cords which allow the outer sections to fall away.

KabukiOne particular subtlety is the way in which the kimono fits around the back of the onnagata’s neck, the only place where the white ‘oshiroi’ make-up is not used.  It was considered by the Japanese that this was a highly erotic feature of a woman’s body therefore the collar stands away from the neck in order to emphasise this feature.

Don’t pass up an opportunity to see one of these performances, but make sure to purchase the earphone guide which gives simultaneous commentary.

Kimonos and Yukatas

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2008

Togashi san, Taki sanEarlier this year I displayed a range of kimonos I had been sent from Japan.  They attracted a lot of attention, and no wonder, they have a sense of beauty, style and proportion that is unique.  On my recent visit to Tokyo I met with the person who had sent them to me.  Togashi-san, seen with me here in front of the Kabuki-za with her daughter Taki, is one of the administrators of the Japan Philharmonic Orchestra and she inherited many of her kimonos from her mother.  This is very much a standard practice and one of my friends who was the UK correspondent for the Nihon Keizai Shinbun (also known as the Nikkei – the Financial Times equivalent of Japan) had an equally extensive collection which had been handed down to her and which was shown at Goldsmiths College last year.

The design of the kimono is comparatively simple, however the fabrics from which they are made can be Kimonoextremely exotic and along with the patterns they contain often relate to the season in which they should be worn.  The kimono shown here is made from linen woven in a style unique to Okinawa.

Dressing in a kimono is not a simple matter and often the wearer will visit a specialist ‘dresser’ in order for the complex layers of the ‘obi‘ to be wound around the waist, something like a corset.  The process can take 40 minutes and when finished contributes to the characteristic way in which a Japanese woman walks. Here is a silk kimono…


…with two decorative obi.

Kimono obiThe kimono has a certain element of formality and is not the only traditional garment to be worn.  During the summer season one often sees people wearing a yukata; a lighter and looser version of the kimono.  At some of the festivals I attended (omatsuri) I saw both young and old alike taking advantage of this unisex garment in the humid conditions of Tokyo in August.  In fact I have a number of them myself and I have made several for my clients.  They say that they appreciate the experience of slipping into this elegant garment as they settle down in the evening, or even for more formal occasions.

Thomas Mahon: English Cut

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2008

Tom Mahon, English CutOut of all of the people I know in the trade Tom, at English Cut is the person who has made the most effective use of technology in extending his ‘shop window’, taking his business to clients and dispelling some of the mystique behind the profession.  It makes for an interesting juxtaposition, the intimacy of the bespoke process alongside simple mass communication methods and his blog appears to be something to which many turn.

He has a wealth of ‘back stories’ emanating from his colleagues in the trade, and was gracious enough to mention my own trip to New York earlier this year and the response from a simple post was most encouraging.

I wish Tom all the best and look forward to meeting up with him again after his own trip to the States this Autumn.


Recognised as a pioneer of bespoke tailoring for women, Carol Alayne has over 25 years experience of creating striking garments for arts, sports and media personalities and business wear for professionals and executives.



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