Carol Alayne

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Archive for 2011

Strike up the brand!

Friday, November 25th, 2011

I recently had some interesting exchanges with a friend on what is meant by ‘personal branding’. We agreed about how branding works with consumer goods, hotel chains, etc., but we both found it difficult to imagine how it might work for an individual woman with a demanding professional career. Many of my clients at TfW fall into this category, but they often have little time (or energy, I suspect) to embrace the concept, let alone explore the possibilities. Here is a good way to think of branding. (more…)

Sensational Butterflies

Monday, June 27th, 2011

‘The caterpillar does all the work but the butterfly gets all the publicity’, supposedly said the comedian George Carlin.

I guess this is true in most cases.   The finished product is far more attractive to look at than the work in process.  But then, both can be equally amazing.  I am talking about the brilliant mosaic mess you can find on my cutting room floor after a job is done!

So let’s not discount the whole metamorphosis thing; what we think is an unremarkable worm is anything but.  It is part of a process that continues to be at the forefront of scientific research.  Aesthetic appeal and diverse opportunities in the sciences have kept butterflies at the centre of evolutionary and behavioural research.  And the more we learn about the way butterflies communicate, the better understanding we have of our own sensory world.

Butterflies have become synonymous with freedom.  Charles Dickens, Elton John and I all agree on this.  I set another garment free the other day.  A beautifully delicate tea dress made from 3 layers of fine silk.  The design was based around the middle layer – a bold jacquard print by Hanae Mori, the most honoured female designer from Japan and an icon to the liberated woman (she has also released a perfume called ‘Butterfly’).  You can all have one guess as to the theme in the print.

The challenge was how to place the pattern pieces on the fabric to capture the great swirls in the design while featuring the image of a sensational butterfly in full flight.  Like the mighty Monarch flying south for the winter!

To make the decision, I made the pattern pieces first out of translucent tissue and invited my client to come around to help with the placement.  I know that she was fascinated to be a part of the process of designing her own bespoke garment.  And she was thrilled to spot the opportunity to reserve a strip of cloth to make an optional neck scarf to add to the look. The result is bold but delicate, featherweight and free for almost any occasion.

‘Fly away, high away, bye bye….’

That thing called Swing

Monday, May 30th, 2011

From time to time I wonder what happens to the finished garments that leave my studio, often with my exit advice to “wear them in”. It is common to ask this of newly tailored clothes – that they are worn a few times and allowed to settle over one’s figure. The process of tailoring of course, involves layers of cooperating fabrics that mould and shape to the body over time. And I expect that the garments styled and tailored for the purpose of business will serve and cope perfectly in the workplace for decades, or long after.

But at TfW we are sometimes asked to design garments that are far afield from the 9-5 business wardrobe, and I was reminded of this just the other day as I mingled with the Bank Holiday crowd in Spitalfields Market.

I was drawn to the brass tunes of the swing band,  Jive Aces, livening up the forecourt, and as I turned the corner – a riot of colour burst forth and swirled about in pairs of exuberant ‘jivers’. This high-energy dance is extremely impressive to watch, and wonderfully unpredictable as the couples improvise their repertoire of spins and footwork in freestyle.

As I took in this unexpected treat, however, I could not take my eyes off the twirling skirts that leapt about in all shapes and colours. Some were constructed in flared panels, some cut in one full circular piece of fabric, some had additional netting underskirts and there were even a few figure hugging simplicities. No two were alike – but each one had a quality that was so uniquely alluring. It had something to do with the way each garment was allowed to move. In the counterpoint of spins around the dance floor, the anticipation of waiting for the next garment to ‘take flight’ made for the most wonderful theatre.

And it made me think what an amazing thing it is to watch a piece of clothing contribute so completely to this kind of spectacle, and somehow, to be just as much the physical performer as the wearer is.

And then I couldn’t help but hope – how many of us have a version of a dancing dress at the ready – with a plan to wear it, somewhere out there, away from the office….?

NHK – Bespoke for Japan; A woman’s point of view

Saturday, May 14th, 2011

In the midst of a hectic time here in the studio; a royal wedding in Monaco, early planning for the shooting season, and gowns for the BBC Promenade concerts, I received a call to participate in the filming of a short documentary for the Japanese national broadcasters NHK.  They wanted to know more about the tailoring tradition and Savile Row from a woman’s perspective.

They were very much aware of how the demand for tailored clothing is changing among women as their professional lives become increasingly more public, and wanted to know how this was being met by the trade.

As always with filming, what is intended as a few minutes in front of a camera turns into a full day’s work, but it is always good to explain the process of bespoke to those who are interested.

A huge thanks goes out to all my friends and colleagues on the Row who helped out.

The documentary will go out as part of the El Mundo programme on NHK BS1 on the 16th May at 11 pm JST, and I hope that some of my friends in Japan will still be awake to see it!  And when I shortly receive my copy it will be uploaded here on the site, so please watch this space.

P.S.  As a footnote, I bumped into another film crew yesterday in my favourite haberdashers, MacCulloch & Wallace.  The BBC crew were filming the latest episode of the ‘Apprentice’ and one of the participants had been instructed to source 10 metres of , well you’ll see, while she stumbled through an attempt to negotiate the price.   Goodness knows why, but from the look of the cloth I think she may be planning some mid-series nuptials!

Warp and weft: the Huguenot’s of Spitalfields

Friday, April 1st, 2011

I was thrilled to be asked by one of my clients, Dr. Tessa Murdoch, to come along to last month’s launch of an Appeal from the foremost Huguenot charity of the 21st century.  Dr. Murdoch is one of the charity’s directors, and in 2009 she co-published a finely illustrated history of the French Hospital entitled “The  French Hospital:  Its History and Collections” http://www.frenchhospital.org.uk/book.htm

The Directors of the French Hospital have launched their Appeal to raise £5.1m to create a National Huguenot Centre to present its unique collection of important Huguenot artefact and archive materials to the public, documenting the Huguenot’s history and heritage.  The launch event was superb.   As we waited for the line-up of speakers, it was an unexpected surprise to be introduced to a fellow American from Virginia, of Huguenot descent. http://www.huguenotsocietyofamerica.org/ Over the course of the evening I spoke to several people with interesting stories and links to the Appeal, and as they learned of my own work, the event reached a climax when I received an invitation to the Huguenot centre in Kent to give a talk on the art of bespoke tailoring.

But what is my connection with a group of French Protestants who took refuge in London from religious persecution in the 16th and 17th centuries?  Well, many of them settled in the Spitalfields area where I now have my tailor’s studio. Spitalfields remains one of the few areas of London where you can find a creative mixture of deep heritage and buzzing cutting-edge enterprises.  Long before dot.com, though, the surrounding streets here used to be filled with craftspeople:  silk weavers, lace makers, tailors, silver and goldsmiths and leatherworkers to name a few.  Strangely enough, when it comes to working life I can easily relate to the world that would have existed centuries ago.  Indeed, some of the basic tools used in my work once belonged to my teacher’s teacher.  And the Huguenots brought with them their traditional crafts based around weaving, lace-making and tailoring, already well-developed in the Cévennes region of the South of France.  Spitalfields became a hub of high quality garment and fabric manufacture, of which I like to think I’m carrying on the tradition.

Despite their original destitution, the Huguenot refugees who came here were among France’s most enterprising and productive people.  Their professionalism and creative genius enriched British life and human assets enormously.  France’s loss was Britain’s gain, and without the Huguenots this country would have undoubtedly been different.

So I look forward to being more involved in this very important work and perhaps one day enriching my own experience with a visit to the traditional Huguenot lace-makers who still practice in France.

For further information about the French Hospital please see www.frenchhospital.org.uk (Registered Charity No. 219318)

Photo by Brian Jones Images

GoldJobs

Tuesday, March 1st, 2011

With a multitude of executive courses from leadership to presentation skills all designed to give a personal edge in the market place, it seems strange that one of the basic and most immediate elements to create an impression, that of appearance, is often left to chance.   Technology puts executives increasingly in the public eye and the immediacy with which they are expected to deliver media sound bites leaves little time for the establishment of credentials.

This is particularly the case for women who struggle to find a comparative to match the visual reinforcement of authority that is the man’s tailored suit.  We commented on this in the February edition of the Economist [insert link to previous post].

It is reassuring therefore that the leading networking portal linking both senior executives and potential new employers, Goldjobs, recognises this as an additional way to support their high level clients.  The founder, Rosalyn Rahme, has a solid background in headhunting, executive search and senior level recruitment for the banking, finance and other industry sectors.  She uses this to great effect for both candidates and clients.  Services are provided via a two way gateway through which future affiliations can be fast tracked.

We are thrilled that they have elected to include Tailoring for Women as part of the services they offer to their clients.  We consider this an acknowledgement of the importance of reviewing all elements of one’s corporate persona when searching for a new placement.

I’m going to sit right down and write myself a letter

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

I was delighted to be told that my letter to the Economist in response to their excellent article Suitably Dressed ( 18 December  2010)  had been accepted.

The article refers to the (possible) 150th anniversary of the lounge suit.  Interestingly, it is referred to in militaristic terms as the ‘battledress’ of the world’s businessmen.

Uniform dress fulfils a number of different purposes depending upon one’s profession, and for some this is more regulated than for others; from peaked caps and epaulettes to a mutually agreed dress code (I believe that the Swiss bank UBS has issued a 44 page guidebook to its 65,000 employees, male and female, on staff dress code at work – including the amount of cleavage allowed on public show!).  While we may consider our clothes a vehicle for personal expression, what we need to wear professionally may have to be much more sobre and perhaps reflect the changing times.

It was interesting to note how the recent financial meltdown caused a reappraisal of dressing standards, and how the dress-down Friday was supplanted back to the well-cut suit and tie.

Perhaps you recall the hemline theory of economics that was tipped as a measure of stock market fluctuations?

Men in some ways have it easier.  Their suit has been developed over some time and has become an accepted standard.   Not so for women, and this was the point of my letter.  For both sexes however, when a uniform needs to be a specific colour or style, ‘fit’ is of paramount importance and unquestionably an ‘edge-giver’.

The appellation ‘bespoke’ is often attached to a variety of objects and services.  There are indeed many clothing outlets that lay claim to this mantra.  Their authenticity however is somewhat questionable and it shows immediately in the fit of a garment.  The real purpose of bespoke is to respond to the individual requirements of each person’s figure, to disguise the idiosyncrasies (don’t worry, we all have them!) and to address fit, proportion and balance.  There are opportunities too, for a personal choice of accents or details which add an additional charm.

Michel Roux’s Service (BBC TV)

Friday, February 4th, 2011

When I received a phone call asking if I would make eight suits for eight contestants in a television series little did I realise that it would become such a compelling piece of viewing, and that I would play a cameo role in the last programme.

Michel Roux Jr assumed the mantle of his father at the world famous Le Gavroche Restaurant in London’s Mayfair some years ago.  It was the first restaurant in the UK to receive three Michelin rosettes, and it was Michel’s crusade to improve the standard of front of house service throughout the hospitality industry that prompted the idea for the series.

In the UK we are almost drowning in the number of food programmes all fronted by so called celebrity chefs, but this was different.  As we talked about my role in the programme it became obvious that there were considerable parallels between the philosophy behind high class dining and my own profession.

In both cases, the high standards of quality and suitability are a given; in fact in one of the programmes they talked about tailor-made dining.  What sets our respective businesses apart from other similar providers is the quality of the relationship one builds with one’s client or customer.  High quality dining and bespoke tailoring are both about creating memorable experiences.

And for the eight young contestants, in the same way that they were given gustatory experiences to complement their growing knowledge of ‘front-of-house’ management, they had the opportunity to find out what it means to experience the process of bespoke tailoring, and the care and attention which accompanies it; something which was quite alien to one or two of the contestants.

The series is rather a triumph.  It showed not only the thought and precision which lies behind high class service, but also documented a life changing transition for a group of young people.  They were transformed from a somewhat unruly, disenchanted group of individuals into a team of open-minded young trainees who understand the place of the finer things in life, and with a thirst for knowledge and a hunger for even more experiences.

Bravo Michel!

Highland flair

Sunday, January 30th, 2011

TfW Highland coat collarI was working on four different Harris tweed garments last December when, by chance, I came across this article in The Guardian newspaper: Harris tweed sales soar. ‘Surely not just thanks to me’, I mused, but I was pleased with the closing remark from Lorna Macaulay, chief executive of the Harris Tweed Authority, who said: (more…)

Telling tales

Tuesday, January 11th, 2011

Quentin Blake with Carol AlayneQuentin Blake gets me thinking. I’m sure that’s because he’s a great artist, and great artists excite the brain as well as the senses. I was at Sotheby’s (London) for a charity event in support of the House of Illustration last December (more…)

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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