Carol Alayne

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Archive for February, 2009

Style and Politics

Thursday, February 26th, 2009

Angela Merkel, 2009 EU SummitLast weekend saw the 2009 EU Economic Summit held in Berlin.  Angela Merkel, one of the world’s leading political figures, was host to the conference.  What struck me about the imagery in the press was the way she captured the focus with her lavender-pink jacket framed by the line up of identical dark suits.

Women do have the opportunity to make more of a statement in the public arena by the way they dress.  Much more so than men.  For me, this example also highlights the importance of ensuring all the elements of the ‘statement’ are in balance.

The shade of her jacket was ideal bringing a sense of freshness, femininity, maybe even optimism for a new political landscape in the use of the spring colour palette. It certainly pulled the eye into the centre of the picture.  However, it strikes me that a few changes in the style and detailing would make the look more successful.

The high square shoulder line gives the appearance of tension and rigidity in the jacket, and the close fitting armscye could be cut with a bit more freedom.   The sleeves should look the same length, and so one could be shortened or the other lengthened.  Another change that might help to soften the look would be to put a slight curve on the lower front opening edge at the hemline.  This would expose a bit more of the dark trouser, and keeping the eye central would visually slim the hipline.

Her male counterparts can rely on the simplicity and safety of their ‘uniform’, and their problems are consequently far less complex. The darker suit colours mask all manner of strains in the fit, which is designed and built with a different structure in mind – not so closely tailored to reveal the figure underneath. The simple option of choosing the right tie is perhaps the ultimate distraction.

We live in a goldfish bowl for the media where the slightest flaws in posture, health, demeanour or dress are pounced on by the press who sometimes seem to look for any pretext to set a ‘news hare’ running.  In fairness they are not the only ones to judge a book by its cover.  The psychologists tell us it is an all too human trait.

Image is vital, particularly on the world stage.  That is why so much attention was lavished on the candidates and their entourage during the recent US elections.  I am sure we all remember the fuss over Sarah Palin’s wardrobe budget. Yet some women seem to manage things without so much razzmatazz.

Here in the UK, the politician Ann Widdecombe carried out a remarkable transformation.  A women of robust opinions, her appearance and demeanour a short while ago became very much the butt of rather uncharitable political satire.  The makeover she has undergone now presents her as the same serious politician, but one with a softer, feminine and more relaxed and humorous side.

Anne Widdecombe before

Anne Widdecombe after
One’s appearance can be more than the sum of its parts, but only if they all work together.

Photo: thanks to Daily Telegraph

An Edge for Edgy Times

Thursday, February 19th, 2009

The suit that bought a bondA client rang me the other day. “I was made redundant a couple of months back and with a number of job interviews to face I think I need an edge,” she said.

The timing of this was particularly appropriate because it coincided with a piece of research carried out by a colleague of mine, Kate Rawlinson. She used to be a sub-editor for the fashion magazines and decided to give it all up to train as a bespoke tailor. The outcome of her research was an interesting mix of opinions which showed that almost 60% of women would consider having a suit made, but that this was overridden by concerns about whether or not they would like the result, and also value for money.

The most important criteria when buying a suit was thought to be the fit (82.5%) followed by the quality of fabric (52.6%). Next came quality of construction (51.5%) and then value for money (49.5%).

With just over 80% of women saying that they wear a suit to work there is undoubtedly a demand but the quality and in particular fit of what is on offer was considered as leaving much to be desired; check my post on ‘Shoddy Fashion‘.

What does all this mean? For me it indicates that there needs to be better education process in place reassuring women that going the bespoke route gives you something that covers all the bases with regard to fit, fabric, and quality of construction. There needs perhaps to be more guidance on what to expect during the process, and we have tried to cover some of this in Briefing for Bespoke. If any of you have any thoughts about ways in which we can make this more helpful please get in contact.

One of the big problems appears to be that it is difficult for women to find bespoke tailors who can cater for their needs not just as clients, but as women too. “…the service just seems like a bolt-on, not really geared up for women” said one respondent.

As for value, did you realise that an authentic bespoke suit could last you for 10 years, if not longer. Factor that out and put it against your mobile phone bill!

In the Independent on Sunday Hot List last week the comment was made that ‘men should be making an appointment with their tailor and ordering something chic and long-lasting’. I would suggest that the same goes for women too, and not only when they need an edge.

In closing, one final crie de coeur from the survey…”I love my out-of-work clothes and wish I could feel the same about my suits”

Photo: thanks to The Costumer’s Manifesto

Briefing for Bespoke: Here come the brides!

Wednesday, February 11th, 2009

Lucie Campbell Engagement RingI opened the Financial Times this weekend to a splash of advertisements for engagement and wedding rings, although for me none as elegant as this stunning example from Lucie Campbell in Bond Street.

Despite the Arctic conditions here in London, minds are turning to warmer thoughts and spring nuptials. I have  completed two weddings so far this year, with a third underway and still more around the corner.  As we were laying out each garment it occurred to me that there are some common issues that might be worth bearing in mind as you start the planning process.

So, here are ten thoughts, in no particular order,  that will help to reduce your stress levels and preserve the bank balance as the day draws near:

  1. It is not necessary to purchase large quantities of expensive fabric.  Simply designed dresses can be transformed with hints of more exquisite fabrics such as beaded silks, embroidery, or devoré.
  2. Choose cloth as early in the proceedings as possible, and also plan the fitting schedule well in advance.  Time flies, and if fabric stocks are limited your selected cloth could be snapped up.  Fortunately,  suppliers will often reserve lengths of fabric against a deposit whilst you decide on the design, and the pattern is cut.
  3. Remember to include your intended jewellery in the discussion.  Bodices can be shaped to show a necklace off to better effect, brooches can be secured to protect the dress fabric, and a headress can be fashioned around an existing tiara.
  4. Plan the undergarments with your designer.  They will be integral to the final design, so remember to bring them to your fittings.  I am pleased to be able to send my clients to Rigby & Peller.
  5. Don’t leave your choice of shoes to the last minute.  You will need them at the final fittings for a perfect hemline.  Also, it can take weeks if they need to be dyed.  Make sure to wear them a few times before the day arrives, you may be grateful when it comes to the last waltz!
  6. I have attended many a wedding where there have been accidents as a hem was caught on a heel or a garment gets unexpectedly snagged.  Make sure you have a small sewing kit to hand, including safety pins.
  7. Don’t leave the men out of the planning.  Often ideas for co-ordinating their garments or accessories come too late in the day to be able to take effective action.  Waistcoats, bow ties, pocket squares, cravats, braces and buttonholes; all can lend a unifying feel to the bridal party.
  8. Clients sometimes ask me to remodel or recondition vintage pieces, or perhaps refurbish a wedding dress worn by their mother.  This is achievable and often gives an added poignancy to an event, but be prepared for specialist alteration work which can be extensive.  Depending upon how the garment has been cared for this can prove a costly exercise particularly if special fabrics, beads, fastenings or trimmings need to be sourced and applied.
  9. Think ahead and consider how any garments might be merged into your regular wardrobe after the wedding.  Shawls and jackets can be used as staple garments after the event, shoes can be re-coloured, and dresses can be re-cut or re-dyed.
  10. Finally, don’t forget the last minute extras – garter, head dress, gloves, shawl or jacket, or a second outfit for the reception.

Good Luck!

Photo: thanks to Lucie Campbell, New Bond Street, London

Ha-ppi, happi happi happi ….coat!

Thursday, February 5th, 2009

Happi coatWith due acknowledgement paid to Rogers and Hammerstein, I thought this week’s post should be devoted to a garment I am personally becoming quite attached to; the happi coat.

This loose fitting Japanese jacket originated as a lightweight over-garment that became a traditional part of a shop keeper’s uniform. The family crest, shop name or emblem was printed on the back of the coat.   In Japanese restaurants the chefs often wear something similar to a happi coat called a hippari.  However, rather than having the traditional obi tied around the waist it has a small belt that ties inside the foreparts.  Today, happi coats are still used by some shop keepers, however you see them more usually at Japanese festivals.

It is an extremely practical garment that folds, packs and travels well, and no doubt this is in part what lends it such popularity.  The traditional garments can be made in cottons or linens but there is no reason why they couldn’t be made from most any fabric.

TfW happi coat

I made this one recently for a client.The fabric I used is a hand woven ‘shot silk and its irridescence is captivating.

Flattering, as it drapes on all figures with its soft shoulder line and proportion that skims the hipline, its belt can also be decorated with beads or perhaps something similar to the traditional netsuke.

Happi coat detail

I received this picture recently from Japan.  This particular happi was a small token of thanks I made for a friend who had treated me to a day of kabuki drama at the Kabuki-za followed by an evening of sushi and sake with her family.  Here she models the finished garment with her arms tucked in to show the shape of the sleeves!

It is made from a length of kimono fabric woven by one of her forebears.  The width of the roll of fabric fits within the traditional standard, around 15 inches, whereby one length would make one of the foreparts, two lengths joined together would form the back, and another length would wrap around the arm to form the sleeve.  This foreward thinking in the manufacturing process eleminates much of the cutting.

I think that there is something almost uncanny about these garments that has also been remarked upon by my clients.  It may well be that the feeling of freedom these garments give somehow encourages a different sense of poise when you wear them.  Maybe it is the way in which this garment highlights the character of the person who wears it rather than it becoming the centre of focus.

Whatever it may be, I now wear them all the time as my signature garment when I am working in the studio.

Photo: thanks to Japanese gifts


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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