Carol Alayne

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Archive for November, 2008

TfW and the Women in the City Awards

Monday, November 24th, 2008

Women in the City AwardsWe are thrilled this year to be able to link with this auspicious event and further promote and acknowledge the part women play in business.  This will be the 6th year of the Awards and they include a number of categories ranging from financial to legal services.  I believe from the creator of the event, Gwen Rhys, that it is complete sell out this year and has been promised the attention of BBC TV, so it should be quite an event.

I am, myself, a member of the City Women’s Network (CWN) which has a membership that extends right across these business sectors and it is always a stimulating experience to attend their meetings and learn from such a broad spectrum of expertise. It seems that there are now many such networks at local, national, and even international level.  My friend, the concert pianist Diana Baker, was a speaker at the Women’s International Network conference a couple of years ago and I had hoped to attend their conference in September this year.  Maybe I will have better luck in 2009.

More recently the Everywoman took place in London with the indomitable Ruby Wax as one of the key speakers.  What an inspiration!

So, well done in advance to all the recipients of the Awards.  A great achievement.

A Briefing for Bespoke

Monday, November 24th, 2008

Tailor from Das Ständebuch (The Book of Trades), 1568Tailoring has a long and intriguing history, and over time it has developed its own unique methodologies and practices.  This post is the first of a series, Briefing for Bespoke, which will chart some of the things it might be helpful for you to know.  It will include topics such as the psychology of appearance, cut, proportion, use of colour, business versus fashion, culture and clothes, and many others.

As you may have seen in the  press recently (although from its imagery I don’t think that the Mail subscribes to the Hemline Theory of Economy, nor do I think it helped with furthering the cause of the serious business woman) companies such as Ernst & Young are taking the matter of how to dress qutie seriously, and in these financially challenging times one can understand only too well how important it is to leverage up any element that has been allowed to fall by the wayside.   Whilst  non-business needs are amply covered by the fashion houses and high streets, there remains a considerable dilemma for those in the business environment.  Anne Freden, chair of Ernst and Young’s women’s network, was quoted by a number of journalists when she expressed how women often found it difficult to know what clothes were acceptable at work.

I feel that the first step is to take a considered look at some of the practical advice that is around and give a measured distillation of what is available in a form that will suit both the needs and lifestlye of those of you that are in the frontline.  I think also that there is a place for some down to earth information about ways in which you can care for your garments, and what new materials or accessories are appearing that will make  life a little easier and enable you to dress with confidence.  This is the purpose of the posts, and I hope that you will feel able to supplement or perhaps challenge some of the comments that will be uploaded.

By way of a taster, I have included alongside this post a simple illustration of an original and highly practical way in which you might fold a tailored jacket ready for travel.

I will leave the last word with Anne Freden who undoubtedly sees the matter of dress as integral to their extensive programme of workshops designed to promote the E&Y women’s network and help women to maximise their potential as a part of the corporate identity policies of her organisation. “The firm doesn’t view this as something that is nice to have, but as an integral part of the business strategy.”

Photo: With CCL

Folding a Jacket

Monday, November 24th, 2008

There are a number of significant differences between the techniques needed to tailor a garment for a women and those for a man. That is not to say however that they are completely different entities.  There are indeed many areas of crossover and this is one such example.

John Reed, who demonstrates this ingenious and original method of folding a jacket, entered the trade some 65 years ago and was a City & Guilds medallion winner.  He is also one of the many personalities that helps define the character of the Savile Row community.

Original footage: Thanks to Naoki Kawamoto Design

Dressing the fuller figure.

Thursday, November 20th, 2008

Venus at the mirror. RubensEarlier this year you may have seen the retail guru Mary Portas visiting the boutique of the designer who specialises in larger-sized garments, Anna Scholtz.  Amongst all the furore over the last year or so about ‘Size 0’ models it was refreshing to hear someone in the fashion industry comment that “the curvy customer is, in fact, the average British woman”.  I realise that this can be a sensitive subject, but if you are a bespoke tailor it is an issue that you have to address face on.

When assessing a client with, to use the accepted euphemism, a fuller figure, it does present a different set of challenges for both maker and wearer, and I feel that the continuing trend for covering up rather than emphasizing assets takes away the opportunity for rejoicing in one’s own body shape.

Often I find it to be the case that insufficient time has been spent by a client in assessing their true anatomical structure, for example whether they are ‘big-boned’, or have a larger body mass.  As each of these has a different reaction to the act of standing or sitting it can have considerable implications for the way in which a garment is cut.

Three of my clients come to mind who are completely at home with their proportions, and all have, in their different ways, to lay themselves open to public scrutiny.

The world famous dramatic soprano Jane Eaglen first came to me when she had just broken on the operatic scene and I made a concert dress for her American debut at the Hollywood Bowl.  She not only had to have something with all the glamour of a first night,  but also it had to be something  against which she could push when her diaphragm was in full extension.  In some ways it had to become a part of her performance equipment.  An interesting combination of robustness and elegance for a woman who is  tall with a substantial figure and a personality to match.  We worked on emphasising this with an emerald raw silk gown which had beaded accents, and combined it with a long iridescent silk chiffon coat.

Clarissa  Dickson Wright wanted a garment for an occasion too; The Conservancy Ball.  But it also had to be one that would merge into her wardrobe in a practical way.  Her links to the countryside and the National Trust led the way to a  2-piece rifle-green, wool-crepe top  with a long 8-panelled skirt which broke into soft flutes at the hemline. Over this we made a sweeping shooting cape  from lightweight tweed with a fine leather trimming.  So…practicality with style.

One of the most interesting commisions recently was from Gieves and Hawkes who asked me to create a piece for the Lord Chamberlain of Tonga on the occasion of the coronation of the new monarch.  This garment had to make less of a statement because of the contrast  with the ceremonial garments.  In this instance it was midnight blue silk-satin with an Empire waistline and a long exagerated A-line skirt.  We were however given full permission to add any accents we thought appropriate, so to soften it we included a scalloped neckline and a hint of beading to match the sparkle of the occasion.

If I were to sum up the common elements from each of these projects I feel that there are three points to be made.

  1. Don’t sentence yourself to wearing dark colours all the time, and have a sense of your own unique colour palate; more of this in future posts
  2. Don’t squeeze into a smaller size, wear something that fits your build
  3. Think vertically with detail, and accents that draw the eye forward and up e.g. longer lapels, a longer jacket opening with fewer buttons, detail around the shoulder areas

The exceptional soprano Jessye Norman is once reputed to have said, when being encouraged to enter a crowded elevator by turning sideways, “Honey, with me there ain’t no sideways”.  Frivolous comments aside,  let’s hear it for the women with fuller figures!

Photo: Public Domain

Its a man’s world!

Thursday, November 20th, 2008

Man\'s WorldIt may appear strange that I lead off one of this week’s blog posts with mention of a man’s magazine, but there is a reason for this.  Man’s World is one of the leading mens lifestyle magazines in India, and I was asked to submit some of my thoughts about the Savile Row tradition and how women fit into the scheme of things.

These are some of the questions and my responses.

What about suits for ladies on Savile Row? Most male tailors believe that female clients shift the goalpost much too often. Is that the case and if so, how do you tackle it? What do you think about doing suits for men?

The female form is far more complex than that of a man.  The journey from shoulder to hip, and from hip to floor needs a wholly different approach in both measuring and the balancing of proportions.  Also I question too whether the traditional fabrics used in the inner workings of the jacket are always best suited to the female form.  Some of the new fabrics have interesting properties that I find quite intriguing and perhaps more suitable.

As for doing suits for men.  I still occasionally make them and enjoy the experience, although the challenges are fewer because a man’s suit is something that has evolved over a long space of time and which fits into a well established pattern .  The women’s suit, that is to say something created specifically for women, is still in a process of evolution. Although there are exceptions, generally speaking  I find that women tend to get a man’s suit that has been cut for a women.  Quite a different proposition.

Can you define bespoke?

What do you need, we will make it, and you will feel supremely confident in wearing it.

Can you define Savile Row?

Savile Row is the contemporary manifestation of a highly skilled tradition that stretches back more than 4oo years.  Isn’t it interesting that the Japanese word for a Western business suit is… sebiru-ro… Savile Row!!

Is Savile Row fashionable?

An interesting question.   If you look at any of the fashion magazines you will see constant reference to tailored garments and how fine tailoring can make a fashion house really stand out.  Also you will find that tailors around the world want to align  themselves with Savile Row whether they have any authentic connection or not.  Savile Row has a unique position as a luxury brand without a single owner, and it is something that people aspire to be a part of whether they are makers or wearers.  Asking whether or not it is fashionable is really forgetting that it is actually one of the few constants in a world which is beset by the whims of the fashion industry.

Is it elitist? What would be the most honest reaction of most SR addresses to a person walking in with trainers and torn jeans?

Sadly most tailors would fail to see the opportunity for educating a new client.  Also people dress differently these days.  The fact that someone wears jeans doesn’t necessarily reflect the true reality of the person wearing them.  As research shows, we judge people first by the way they look, not by what they say.  Maybe we need to reflect on this a little more.

Today, is Savile Row mere geography? What about Hong Kong, Thailand or even Hounslow?

Savile Row has two elements.  a) The physical space in Mayfair and the community that is built around it, and b) its universal recognition as a benchmark of quality and service.

What is the biggest change you have seen in the world of men’s fashion? What is the biggest change in Savile Row?

Cheaply available suits that seduce people into believing that they are getting something that they not.   See our post ‘The credit crunch, suits, and a pricing conundrum’.

So if you were in my shoes,  how might you respond?

Photo: thanks to Man’s World, India

MacCulloch and Wallis: An experience with all the trimmings

Wednesday, November 12th, 2008

MacCulloch & Wallis is one of the last remaining trimming merchants in the UK.   I have been taking the advice of their proprietor, Victoria Connolly, for the past 17 years but strange as it may seem, until now I have not had the opportunity to look closer at their business, and fascinating it is too!

Their property in Dering Street, Mayfair, looks much the same as it would have done in the days when a tailor, seated and cross-legged, would have occupied prime place in the shop window.  The size of their premises are deceptive (three ‘coal holes’ were converted into offices) and hold an enormous inventory of trimmings, threads, haberdashery, fabrics, equipment, milllinery and bridal fabrics. Much of this has been assembled over time and as other haberdashers have closed M&W has absorbed their stock.  They also have a substantial on-line presence.  Often they get access to the cloth left over from some of the high fashion collections and it is incredible to see some of these fabrics away from the catwalk.

They have an equally wide customer base supplying local alteration tailors, independent dressmakers, designers,  and a number of specialist makers who work for film and theatre.  Their staff are generally drawn from the fashion colleges as they reach the end of their degrees, and in many ways working in this environment acts as a ‘finishing school’, supplementing academic studies with practical experience.  Often you will find they balances a part time job with M&W as whilst making the transition to independent designer.

They aspire to be a ‘one-stop’ shop and certainly have never failed me.  They have the air of an old-fashioned shop keeper and in fact the interior is recognised as being of ‘historical interest’, the consequence being that there is a protection order on all internal fittings and architecture.  Well worth a visit, and as you search for your purchases take a little time to appreciate its sense of ‘old world’ charm.

Mary Carewe and a family affair at the Cadogan Hall

Tuesday, November 11th, 2008

It was a complete delight to go to the Cadogan Hall last week to attend a concert by Mary Carewe once again.  I know I have written about her before, but this was something of a special occasion. The concert consisted of a mixture of cabaret songs drawn from the age when Berlin was the focus of all that was risqué and decadent.  Cutting satirical songs from Kurt Weill to the more exotic and challenging Pierrot Lunaire by Arnold Schoenberg made for a heady mix.

Not only was Mary on stage but the concert was conducted by her father John Carewe,  Sir Simon Rattle’s original mentor, and in the Berlin Kabarett Ensemble was her sister on the cello.  Simon’s son Sasha was playing the clarinet, and throughout the evening three of my own family appeared.  Three concert gowns made over a period of 15 years; a silver beaded gown for Pierrot Lunaire, a black beaded tailcoat for the Berlin songs, and a multi-coloured beaded\netting combination to add a little more spice.  It was certainly the night for beads!

Mary makes her Carnegie Hall debut with Carl Davis next year so with a bit of luck I will be able to synchronise  my next US sales trip with the performance.

Photo: thanks to www.sanctuaryclassics.com

Changeboard: A matter of appearance

Thursday, November 6th, 2008

Just a brief post to let you know about an article we wrote for one of the specialist Human Resource (HR) websites; Changeboard.  It is devoted to how our appearance can influence the perceptions of others and came via one of our Canary Wharf clients.  It also started the thought that perhaps we should  contribute a little more to the debate around this subject.  So…..from the end of November we will be starting a series of posts about the ways in which we can all maximise our personal impact in the way we present ourselves.

The LBD: A classic dress with versatility and staying power

Wednesday, November 5th, 2008

Ute LemperThe Duchess of Windsor said “when it is right there is nothing to replace it”, American Vogue dubbed it the “Ford” because it was as ubiquitous as the automotive, and Coco Chanel confessed, ” a little black dress is difficult”.  It is hard to believe that this perennial which became such a feature for Audrey Hepburn is over 80 years old. In the Daily Express today it made an appearance again, prompted by the new Bond film, Quantum of Solace.

In this instance it appears to be invested with a durability not normally associated with haute couture as it appears to be the garment of choice for the actress Olga Kurylenko as she plummets to earth on a parachute in the company of Daniel Craig.  Aren’t modern fabrics wonderful!

In the same spirit that Pascal said “I am sorry for writing a long letter I didn’t have time to make it shorter”, in its brevity the LBD requires an equal degree of finesse in creating its subtlety of curves and figure-hugging simplicity.  Much of its personality is created in the cutting process which has to be exact. Silhouette, neckline,  and hemline all interact and have to be in balance. It really is garment design in its purest form with no fuss or frills and  little room for error and carries the same degree of risk as the ‘shodo’ calligraphers who get only one chance to make their mark on the paper.

I made the dress above for Ute Lemper when she starred in the opening of Chicago in 1998, and it still looks as fresh and alluring as it did when it first went on stage.  It also had a sense of theatre as you can see from the shoulder strap.

So when thinking of reviving your wardrobe remember the words of Christian Dior.  “You can wear black at any hour of day or night, at any age and for any occasion.  A little black dress is the most essentail thing in any woman’s wardrobe”

Biography

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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