Carol Alayne

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Archive for August, 2009

Revival of the fittest!

Sunday, August 30th, 2009

Victoria and Albert MuseumFrom 18th – 20th September the Revival Meeting takes place at Goodwood.  A celebration of vintage cars, airplanes and clothes, all resonating with the theme of calling back to years gone by.

As the fashion world goes through its cyclical stages once more,  ‘vintage’ is a word that seems increasingly popular, covering anything within the time span of 20 – 80 years old.

Near my studio in Spitalfields there are a number of outlets that specialise in vintage clothing.  Absolute Vintage is one such example.  Over time, these garments have had many a good outing as well as changes in ownership and some will benefit from a ‘tune up’.  One of my clients purchased a crepe dress from Love Saves the Day (New York City) to wear both for her daughter’s wedding in Knightsbridge and a gala opening at the Victoria and Albert Museum. In order to bring it  back into its prime it required a certain amount of dying, shaping and re-beading, but the result was striking and original, with no danger of anyone else turning up wearing something even remotely similar.  (Check our post about ‘the A word‘)

Alternatively one could have something made specially that embraces this trend towards nostalgia.  In a recent post I mentioned a couture piece we made that reflected the designs of André Courrèges.  We have recently extended this to similar garments from a range of different fabrics.

Working with vintage clothing also bings considerable benefits when it comes to training new talent.  Some of the older techniques used are seldom to be seen on the high street where mass marketing loses much of the subtlety in construction.

So why not embrace a little bit of history…there is still many a good tune played on an old fiddle.

Photo: thanks to Victoria & Albert Museum

Stop Press!

Thursday, August 20th, 2009

Paper boyWe reached a milestone recently.  One that you helped to create. For just over a year we have been writing about tailoring for women, and it is incredible to see how our audience has grown.  Our goal was to try to create a hub of information that addressed some of the prevailing practical issues for women when it comes to selecting tailored clothing, and to help you make better informed decisions.  Judging from our Google rankings it has reached way beyond our initial expectations…and cultural boundaries.

From India to Canada interest has been stimulated, and not only amongst our immediate client base.  Discussions have been opened with other craftspeople from the trade, a regular stream of apprentices and work experience students has materialised, opportunities for exchanges between clients and non-clients have been created, and our blog has acted as a talking point for several internet based forums.

This resource has also led to the creation of a number of opportunities for extending our business.  In September we will be visiting clients in New York City, October will see a feature in National Westminster Bank’s ‘Sense‘ magazine, and in November we have the exciting opportunity of opening the seminar on women’s tailoring at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London alongside Jaeger and Evie Belle.  As a result we have received mentions in the online magazines for both Vogue and Elle, and the influential Fashion United blog.

Some of our most popular items to date have been Dressing the Fuller Figure, Restore, Refurbish, Restyle, Resurrect, Remodel…and the A Word, Variations on a Seam, Folding a Jacket, and more recently Trouser Roles.  The credit crunch too stimulated a number of posts, and there appears a regular stream of visitors to the more technically based features in Briefing for Bespoke.

So, thank you all for making this possible, and finally, do let us know if there are any subjects you feel we are missing!

Photo: thanks to Media Bistro

Trouser roles

Thursday, August 13th, 2009

TrousersI have a number of autumn/winter trousers in production at the moment.  As I was putting the final hand stitches into a blue birdseye wool pair it struck me how, in a small but symbolic way, this garment had contributed to the emancipation of women in the workplace.  Courrègesin mid-sixties Europe was a major influence in transforming the combination of matching jacket and trousers into “acceptable formal wear for daytime professionals” (‘A History of Fashion’   J. Anderson Black & Madge Garland).  His lead was followed  in the US  in the form of the ‘pantsuit‘;  an combination of  matching tunic and trousers.

I remember at the time how its rapid proliferation was both shocking and liberating.  Not only was its visual manifestation a force for change, but it introduced a new sense of practicality to the business wardrobe.  When I started my business in the 70’s it was, in part, a response to this sea change in the office dress code. Prior to this nothing but a skirt or dress was considered acceptable.

Trousers can be transformational; if they look great, so do you.  I would even go so far as to say that this basic garment’s influence can enhance the sense of well being for the wearer.  The technique of achieving this miracle is all in the ‘cut’; a dilemma that was addressed in the tailor’s bible,  J.P. Thornton’s ‘The Trouserssectional system of gentlemen’s garment cutting’, of which I have an ancient copy.

‘The difficulties of trouser cutting can be summed up as follows…..If a trouser is cut to fit a figure when the legs and body are in a straight, standing position how can it fit when the legs and body are in a crooked position, walking? How can the 2 cloth cylinders suitable for the straight legs fit when the wearer is seated?”

They are a deceptively tricky garment to cut well, particularly for the female figure with its more complex curves.  The final garment must be comfortable, look good from all angles, and have no visible sign of the internal architecture.  The wearer needs to be able to step into an car or board a plane without pinch, stress, or ‘ride up’.  Following long days seated in the boardroom the garment should fall naturally into place with the creases intact.

Nowadays the new wools and blends can cope with all seasons and changes in climate.  Long gone are the times when all that was available were heavy weight tweeds and pinstripes.  And to be just a little more seasonal, how about some breeks.  I handed over a pair yesterday all ready for the grouse moors, lined in pink!

Spitfire tailors

Thursday, August 6th, 2009

Spitfire pilotSomeone recently said to me, ” I’m sure you can see now that men’s and women’s tailoring will never sit side by side.”   Granted, this was not one of the most  forward-thinking of the Savile Row fraternity. (I am not sure that Armani would agree with him either!)  It seems ironic that these days, when the talk is of ‘breaking glass ceilings’, there should be such a lack of joined-up thinking.  I have to confess that this thought was in part stimulated by a book I was given by a friend recently; The Spitfire Women of World War II (Giles Whittell)

The women of the Air Transport Auxiliary may not have taken part in the Battle of Britain but, without their flying skills and courage in Spitfire womendelivering the aircraft to the RAF bases for their male counterparts, the battle would never have got off the ground; they flew Lancasters and Wellingtons too.  There are believed to be about 15 of the women pilots left, all in their eighties and nineties.

To fulfil their posts, they needed to be in uniform and as you might imagine, all the tailors were men.

The book relates a charming account from one of the women pilots about a trip to a local tailor in order to be measured up, and the consternation caused amongst the erstwhile cutters when a group of them first walked into the shop.  “Whoever heard of such a thing!”.

Apparently the basic measures were accomplished without incident, but when it came to the bust Spitfire Womenmeasurement the approach of the tailor seemed somewhat unusual.  “He would take a few quick steps, throw the tape measure round the back, catch it in mid-air and, turning his head away as if he couldn’t bear to look, wait until the two ends met before giving a fleeting glance to the number of inches it recorded.”  The process was completed by the cutter whispering “the awful secret” in the “hairy ear” of his amanuensis.  What a performance!

The end result was that their long awaited uniforms arrived with trouser seats four inches lower than they should have been.

Thank goodness times have changed…or have they!?

Photo: thanks to HarperPerennial, The Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail

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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