Carol Alayne

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Archive for March, 2009

Figuring it out: Hacking jackets, Mars bars and shotguns

Wednesday, March 25th, 2009

Hacking JacketA respondent to a recent post asked the question;  is buying a bespoke garment considered  a good return on  investment considering the initial spend?  Putting aside for the moment matters such as fit, design and satisfaction of requirements, I thought it provided an interesting challenge.  So I decided to investigate something from my own experience; my favourite ‘hacking jacket‘.

I made this garment twenty years ago, just after I came to London.  The fabric is a 100% worsted wool special edition tartan that I picked up at Holland & Sherry in Mayfair.  I wanted a key piece for my wardrobe that would be flexible enough to wear with tailored trousers, or jeans and trainers; for more formal or informal gatherings.  I use it throughout the autumn, winter and spring, and probably a minimum of once each week.  Erring on the low side this has given it around 600 outings in its lifetime (20 years) and it still has a long way to go!    The reasons for the length of its lifespan lie with the fact that the nature of its construction means it can be altered, the quality of the fabric makes it durable but still elegant, and it can resist the trauma of visits to high street dry cleaners without falling apart.

The original cost would have been in the region of £750.00 which  means that so far it has cost £37.50 per annum, and of course this is diminishing.  How does this rate with what you would expect to pay in the high street?

Prices, as you might imagine, have changed since the late 80’s.  So I contrasted this with two of my passions; Mars bars and shotguns.  Pretty extreme!

In 1989 the price of a Mars bar was 26 pence, and a standard 12 bore Holland & HollandRoyal ” Model shotgun £21,100.  When I went to the local newsagent today, a Mars bar cost me 65 pence.  I didn’t have sufficient loose change in my pocket to pick up a shotgun; they now retail at £55,250.

So putting all this together I would suggest that the current price of a hacking jacket, from around £1500, is pretty much in line with the current pricing structures, and a good return on investment.

Not only that… but you get what you want!

P.S.  I just had an evening with one of my closest colleagues on the ‘Row’.  John Reed (see ‘Folding a Jacket‘) reminded me about the fact that we are all different, and the beauty of bespoke is that it respects and responds to our differences.

Briefing for Bespoke: The Experience

Thursday, March 19th, 2009

The workbenchRecently I participated in a number of conferences in and around the Square Mile (the traditional financial centre of London) and the things about which I am asked most frequently are to do with the process of making a bespoke suit; specifically what does it involve, and how can one best prepare for it. A bespoke suit is comprised of an intricate and subtle layering of fabrics which are so arranged to mold to your body over time.  Like a good wine, it takes on character as it matures.

So, bearing in mind that you want to get the most out of your investment…and I really do look at it in that light…here are some pointers.

Preparation beforehand: The what, where, when and why’s of your garment

  • Venue.  Do you need to fit in with current custom and practice
  • Use.  Is this purely for the office or will it have to fulfil other purposes
  • Climate.  High humidity, or freezing air conditioning…or both
  • Time.  All day, evening, working hours
  • Event.  Is this for a special occasion
  • Image.  What impression do you wish to create
  • Wardrobe.  What do you have in your collection

Consultation: Initial questions

  • * Design.  Do I have to stick to a classic style ( single-breasted, double-breasted, button 2, button 3, vents etc.) ?  What modifications can be made (style of cuff, width of lapel, contrasting stitching etc.) ? Can you work from an illustration?  How will it be ‘finished’ (edge stitching, handmade button-holes etc)?
  • Process.  Where will the garment be produced?  Can I make changes to the design after the making process has started?
  • Timetable.  How long will the whole process take? How many fittings will there be? Can you fit within my schedule? Can you deliver to me?
  • Materials.  What choice of materials are available (main cloth, linings, trimmings etc.)?
  • Costs.  What is the schedule of payments?  Are there likely to be any extras?
  • Accessories.  What additional items might I need?

Following on: the first fitting

  • At your first fitting you will have the opportunity to see the internal workings of the garment before the lining has been installed.  Things you will be asked to consider will include
  • Balance, fit and shape
  • Any revisions to the original design – as the process advances there is less opportunity for making major modifications

Second fitting:

Not always required, but an opportunity to check on any major changes as a result of the first fitting


  • Aftercare.  How should I best store my garment?  How should it be cleaned? How should it be packed for travel?
  • Maintenance.  Can I come back for future alterations or ‘tune-ups’?

You can perhaps see from all this thought, time and attention that there is a good reason for calling it the ‘bespoke experience’.

How are we doing so far?

Thursday, March 12th, 2009

Recently a number of my clients have said that they are beginning to lose track of some of the topics we have covered over the past sixth months, so I thought that the time was right to give you a speedy overview.  And if any of you have comments as to how we might better arrange the categories for the blog posts I am open to suggestions.

In the current categories, over to the right of the screen, you will find Briefing for Bespoke. This is intended as a resource to which you can turn whenever you want to know more about going the bespoke route, and how to make the best of the many choices available. There are posts about Colour Analysis, the Psychology of Appearance, Proportion, and some practical tips about fabrics and the different ways in which they perform. We also touch on care and maintainance and even suggest a novel way to fold a jacket.

One of my clients mentioned that it would be helpful to know more about the bespoke process from initial consultation to final delivery, so we will be adding this in shortly.

Elsewhere we have included some novelty pieces about the rule of thumb and how it applies to simple systems of proportional measurement, and quite a number of posts tied into my trip to Japan last year; Happi coats, Kimonos and Kabuki costumes. And just a few items about my clients who range from the world of finance, both commercial and governmental, to performers such as Ute Lemper and Gil Shaham.  It was wonderful too, to be able to talk about the British Olympic Shooting Team for whom I made all their shooting jackets (picture above).  A high performance garment for a high performance team.

If any of you have suggestions for posts for the next six months, let us know.

Tailoring and the Glass Ceiling

Wednesday, March 4th, 2009

Glass CeilingLast Sunday, I caught an interview with Cherie Blair on the BBC’s Politics Show.  It ended a programme segment hosted by three guest women presenters, each from quite different backgrounds; a fire-fighter, a mother trying to get back into the workforce, and a company director.  An interesting debate.  And three observations in particular struck a chord which has some relevance to my own professional arena.

The other day  it was suggested by a male colleague that it was just too difficult for “gentlemen’s’ and ladies’ tailoring to co-exist”.  ( I use the word ‘ladies’ advisedly!).  Despite the number of professional women currently  hammering at the executive ‘glass ceiling‘ (some of them are my clients),  it seems strange that this sort of attitude still prevails.  Cherie commented on how society works best when women and men work together with “complementary skills on an equal basis”.   I know I learned a huge amount from my colleagues on Savile Row; in fact TfW is a service that grew from within a male tradition.  Yet despite my own background in haute couture, I feel that the opportunity for reciprocal learning was never quite part of the sharing process.

She also commented on how volume counted, that is, the more women that reach senior executive positions, the more accepting and quicker the change; a statistic of around 20%-30% was suggested for producing critical mass.  As one of the only women specialising in authentic bespoke tailoring for women I think we have some way to go on this one!

Maybe it is just that the trade is not ready for an influx of women.  Judging from the recent BBC series about Savile Row, it seems as if the upholders of this male tradition are still pretty well ensconced in their gentleman’s emporiums.

Maybe I should declare myself an endangered species.  And while we are at it, perhaps someone should mention that kissing the back of a lady’s hand by way of greeting is a bit ‘old hat’!


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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