Carol Alayne

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Archive for July, 2009

Following the Silk Road to Holland & Sherry

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009

I had something of a surprise last week.  An unexpected visit to my Spitalfields studio  from one of the members of the Japanese Imperial Household.  It also gave me the chance to show the latest treasures in stock.  A selection of superb silk and wool tweeds prepared specially for me by Nicolas Guibauld at Holland & Sherry.

Silk is a natural protein fibre spun by the silkworm as it makes its cocoon…which is perhaps why moths aren’t particularly interested in it!  In cross section, the fibres have a triangular shape with rounded corners which allow light to reflect at different angles, giving the fabric a natural lustre.  Its smoothness and softness of texture belies the fact that it is one of the strongest natural fibres, and it also takes dye extremely well.  I believe also that violinists wrap their instruments in silk cloths in order to equalise in part any changes in humidity.

Holland & Sherry’s Silk Essence range is woven in England with Super 100’s wool.  When silk is included in the weave the natural qualities of the wool are enhanced immeasurably giving the fabric a unique drape and luxurious feel.  What is more, when silk is woven into patterns – dogtooth, herringbone, birdseye or glenchecks – it becomes almost irridescent.

They also stock a range of cashique fabrics; a very special treat indeed.  It’s made from a blend of the highest quality mulberry silk with cashmere and super-fine wool.  Definitely for the connoisseur.

It is not only the properties of the fabric itself however that lend to it its mystique.  It first began to appear in the West almost 2000 years ago and the trade routes that were established for the transport of silk and other commodities from China, the Silk Road, gave rise to a rich reservoir of stories and legends.

Everyone seems to have a ‘silk’ story.  What is yours?

Japan comes to Spitalfields

Wednesday, July 15th, 2009

MatsuriI think that you may have gathered from previous posts that I have an interest in things Japanese.  What a surprise to find that in September, in Spitalfields Market (East London) opposite my studio, there will be a daylong event devoted to both the traditional and more contemporary aspects of Japan in the form of a ‘matsuri‘; the Japanese word for festival.  Click here to see just how spectacular it was.

I made my first visit to Japan last year and at the same time had my first experience of ‘o-matsuri’ in an area of Tokyo called Azabu Juban.  A really vibrant street festival with food, dancing, and everyone dressed in their summer yukatas.  The perfect way to blow away the jet lag.  I remember the air being heavy with the summer heat and eating flavoured crushed ice (kakigoori) to keep cool, and munching on octopus balls and grilled fish with a sip or two of sake.

It looks as if this could be a date for your diary.  Check out the website. Japan Matsuri

I can’t wait for my next trip.

Image: thanks to Shimei Okumura

Restore, refurbish, restyle, resurrect, remodel… and the A-word!

Friday, July 10th, 2009

I need your comments!  My request is prompted by a client who approached me to carry out some ‘alterations’ to a much beloved wardrobe which, because of the passage of time, required some adjustments.

Alterations, the dreaded ‘A-word’, for me has more to do with taking up trouser hems or moving buttons.  This is a million miles away from the extensive re-cutting and restyling that is needed when refashioning a garment.  In many ways it is more related to the conservation skills required for preserving great works of art and other articles of value.  I remember talking with a luthier about the intricacy of the work that goes into repairing violins, preserving the original materials, and in more intense cases, searching for slivers of wood to match the age, grain and texture of the original. So, which of the ‘R-words’ is most appropriate?

For one part of my career I worked alongside the costumiers at the Royal Opera House.  The ability to reshape and reform garments at the drop of a hat because of last minute production changes was an essential part of their skill.

Rather than a chore, I see this work as an opportunity to learn, and I am very much of the opinion that training in these skills should be integral to any tailoring programme. It takes in all of the elements crucial to the art of bespoke; cutting, balance, sculpture, proportion and finish. Recently I have been fortunate to welcome on board a new apprentice and so this restyling project has proved to be a real bonus.

I should add one caveat however, modern garment construction does not always allow the provision for such extensive reshaping as I have mentioned in earlier posts.

But over to you…

Instead of the ‘A-word’, what would be your preference?

The Elephant in the Room

Thursday, July 2nd, 2009

Were you aware that the Asian elephant was under threat? Because of the loss of its natural habitat, a result of expanding human populations, the number of wild Asian elephants is plummeting. The area they once inhabited stretched from the far corners of China, through Thailand, Indonesia, India and across Syria; some 3.5 million square miles and about the size of Canada. It has now shrunk to some 170,000 square miles – less than the size of Spain. I learned this at a special celebrity  launch reception for the charity Elephant Family held by one of my clients, Wendy Senturier, earlier this week.

What a special event it was; approximately 200 guests including celebrities such as Joanna Lumley and the Duchess of York. (It was covered by the London Evening Standard a few days later), The outcome of this initiative should be seen some time next year around the streets of London. The star auction items were a herd of 200  2-metre high, hand-made elephants which will be decorated, and  placed at a number of locations around the capital. The target is £1 million in order to secure land in Asia to create an elephant sanctuary, and the event made a significant contribution to this.

I am fortunate to have such a list of intriguing clients, and Wendy particularly so. She runs a highly regarded networking service for the international community with offices in London, Geneva, Hong Kong and Singapore. For this event, I created this sleeveless dress with a cutaway neckline from a silk chiffon print by Roberto Cavalli, a favourite designer of Wendy’s. This print was especially complex because of the juxtaposition of pearls, lace, animal print and floral motifs. With a brief of this nature it can take some time to understand the fabric thoroughly and all its design possibilities. In fact I hung the the whole length high up along a wall in my studio and lived with it for some time before I made the first cut. It’s always an interesting challenge to work within the constraints of a fixed length of print fabric; technically tricky too, when trying to match printed patterns on such a fragile silk weave.

Keep your eyes peeled next year around May to July when the results of this fundraiser will be seen around the streets of London. You can catch a flavour from a similar event that took place in Amsterdam earlier this year at We wish the charity every success. As we know…an elephant never forgets.

Photo: thanks to Elephant Family


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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