Carol Alayne

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Archive for May, 2009

Press here!

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009

TeddyWe were sifting through the archives of press cuttings and images the other day.  I am preparing to speak at a seminar for the V&A later this year and I was searching for pictures of some of the ‘old guard’ in Savile Row.  It is extraordinary how much I have forgotten over the last two decades of working in London.

And what an interesting journey, going right back to the beginning when I started with a clientele made up almost exclusively of performers.  I set out very quickly to learn the techniques of making a tail coat and suddenly found myself kitting out the violinist Gil Shaham, and the conductors Barry Wordsworth and Tamas Vasary.  I later made a much more feminine version for the singer Hilary Summers.  You can see Hilary here with the Michael Nyman Band in another outfit we made for her.

More recently came the coverage for the Commonwealth and Olympic shooting teams, and the British Embassy magazine in Japan.

Dealing with press exposure is an illuminating process.  A number of my clients come from the corporate communications and PR sector, and I have learned a great deal from them about the expertise that lies behind an effective press campaign.  It is one thing to get a novelty item in the Evening Standard about dressing a teddy bear, quite another to make a consistent impact in the fashion pages!

Cheques and Balances, Boom and Bust

Thursday, May 21st, 2009

Boom and BustWe have written about the credit crunch in other posts, however this particular project we undertook recently with Malcolm Plews of the tailoring house Welsh and Jefferies was an opportunity for clothes to ‘bite back’. And it involved a fashion student; Katie Robinson.

From time to time we try to make space to work with up and coming students in the clothing industry. Their ideas can be really refreshing and it gives us the opportunity to keeping in touch with current trends.

Katie’s particular specialisation is textile design and this collection, ‘Boom and Bust’, is inspired by the traumas of the City over the last few months.

The print designs were created on a range of different fabrics and used a number of iconic motifs such as the gold chip on a credit card, and embossed coinage.

After the fabric came the construction; I worked on the women’s business suit, Malcolm the men’s, and the one and only Delroy Mitchell produced the shirts.  I wonder if it is the first time a graduation show has had such a back stage representation from Savile Row?

Here is the collection, beautifully captured by the photographer Vicoria Brocklebank.

If all goes well, the collection will be selected for an independent London show at the East Winter Garden in Canary Warf on the 12th of June.

Good luck Katie!

Checks and balances

Friday, May 15th, 2009

Autumn\Winter collections will soon start to appear in retailers’ windows with the usual re-emergence of checks and plaids.  Working with these types of fabric brings a unique set of challenges.  If they are handled well, the garment takes on an added sharpness.  If not, the result will offend the eye and the garment will fail to achieve its full potential.

Plaids can be printed or woven and come in two basic forms; balanced or unbalanced.  ‘Balanced’ plaids have a symmetrical repetition of the pattern’s stripes growing outwards from each side of a central point.  An ‘unbalanced’ plaid is assymetrical with just a repeating series of stripes.

When working with plaids you need to purchase more fabric than usual in order to accommodate the matching of pattern repeats.  This is particularly the case if the design has a large number of pieces.  A good rule of thumb is to allow for two additional repeats of the pattern.

Correct cutting of the pattern is crucial; it determines the way in which the pattern of the cloth will align precisely across the seams.  This is the mark of a top class garment.

First comes the matching of the sideseams of both jacket and trousers.  Next, the horizontal lines at the top of the sleeve front should match those on the body of the jacket.  And the centre seam on the back should not interupt the pattern, aligning perfectly with the collar.  For the lapels, the stripes should run parallel to their edges, and pocket flaps should not interupt the flow of the pattern.

ChevronIt is also possible to create chevron seams where the patterns of each part meet at 90 degrees.

Single layer cutting ensures the right design in the correct place on the fabric, and pattern pieces need to mirror each other, creating symetrical shapes where one is the exact reverse of the other.   You also need take account of the direction of the nap of the cloth.

Kilts are a traditional plaid garment that bring their own set of problems.  The combination of the amount of cloth and the way in which it is pleated gives it a characteristic swing when walking, however the way in which this is created is highly specialised.  The aim is to conceal sufficient cloth within a pleat so that the folded edges align with the repeat of the pattern.  This means that the length of cloth has to be calculated individually, depending upon the width of the repeat.

Working with plaids is like trying to solve an enormous three dimensional puzzle.  Just like some of the interlocking wooden puzzles you see in toy shops, if you change one element, you have to consider how it affects all the others.  Sudoku for suits!

Austerity measures

Sunday, May 3rd, 2009

HaberdasheryLast week saw more coverage about ‘Austerity Britain’.  In particular,  how people were looking to revitalise long forgotten skills.  BBC TV’s Newsnight had people talking about reinvigorating the clothes in their wardrobes,  the Independent issued a supplement in their New Good Life series (Making and Mending – Sewing, knitting and darning), and the Financial Times ran a page about the rise in the sales of sewing machines and haberdashery.

I visited a number of my favourite suppliers here in London and they all confirmed how there had been an upsurge in interest,  although as Martyn Frith of the Button Queen commented,  “this was their third recession over 50 years, so it was not entirely unexpected”.

  • The Button Queen: Established for over 50 years with a collection of some 2 million buttons, including rare antiques.  They will source special requirements.
  • MacCulloch & Wallis: Great selection of millinery items in addition to an extensive selection of fabrics and trimmings,  all within a listed building in Mayfair.
  • Kenton Trimmers:  Family business that caters specifically for the bespoke tailor.
  • V V  Rouleaux: Out of the ordinary, theatrical trimmings and decorations.

A little while ago we ran a post about the fashion industry and how it had spawned a rash of cheap clothing much of which ended up in our land fill sites after only a couple of outings.  It is a welcome move forward that people are now looking to remodel and recycle.  Unfortunately,  because of the structuring of mass-produced garments this is not always as straightforward as it seems.  With some new designs, compromises are made in the make, and in the use of cloth and trimmings – and seams have a tendency to autodestruct at the slightest hint of a repair kit!

Nonetheless, I am all for ‘making do and mending’.  In fact it has given me great pleasure recently to work with one of my clients, a medical consultant, who wanted to have a hand in sharpening up her tailored wardrobe, and adapting it more to her own changing tastes and body shape. Ultimately she would like to learn more about basic tailoring, extending her creative skills set as well as the life of her garments, and at the same time adding some personal touches to her wardrobe.


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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