Carol Alayne

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Archive for 2017

Power Dressing, but does it empower

Monday, May 1st, 2017

Joan CollinsThe Sunday Times (UK) Style section devoted a number of column inches to the do’s and don’ts for women who find themselves at the front of the political stage either as leader or consort.  It seems that once again the dilemma for high-profile women has surfaced; about giving the right sense of gravitas without appearing domineering, or warm and genuine as against frivolous and ‘fashiony’.  From some of the books I have collected about the psychology of clothing its background is long and complex.   This rarely seems to be a problem that confronts men.  What I question however is the term power dressing.  Is it not a dated term in itself?  Also, let’s not confuse the fact that the needs of the political band wagon are rather different from those of a shareholder meeting.

For me power dressing immediately conjures up a dated picture of big shoulders, tight waists and sculptured hair-dos that look not dissimilar from the City Hall building here in London, and with as much immobility!

It smacks of theatre with only a veneer of seriousness, and as I visit my clients in the City you can see that these financially challenging times require a degree of authenticity that suggests a ‘safe pair of hands’..

One of my clients articulated her dilemma well when she talked about walking into a room of 100 venture capitalists, all male apart from a handful of women, and all with the same, almost regular-issue pinstripe uniform.  Custom and practice has not given us the opportunity to develop a similar sort of iconic look, and in this the fashion industry has been no help.

“Real power dressing is about being smart and true to yourself, and the balance between the two is what makes it new. Work out what suits you, and don’t deviate” says the Times.  But what does this mean in practical terms, and where are the places a busy executive can go to build an appropriated wardrobe without spending vast amounts of time doing it.

So I would suggest that the journalist in the Times should perhaps look a little closer at the trading floors and boardrooms and consider the realities of the executive life-style, and whether or not the concept of power dressing may in reality be rather disempowering

Warp and weft: the Huguenot’s of Spitalfields

Saturday, April 1st, 2017

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

When less is more

Monday, March 20th, 2017

Utility dressIn 1940, with all-out war looming, the UK government Board of Trade decided to restrict the amount of clothing available in order to preserve resources. They called in the help of the Incorporated Society of London Fashion Designers, comprising the leading English couture houses, and asked them to design robust clothes using a minimum of material. These ‘utility’ clothes were created with simple (more…)

The credit crunch: Best value…made-to-measure or bespoke

Friday, March 17th, 2017

It seems from recent press that ‘buying quality’ is the advice when preparing your wardrobe in times of financial uncertainty.  So how does this apply with your tailored garments.

In ‘Looking the Business‘ (Times Online) the suggestion is that made-to-measure is a better option to bespoke.   It may be helpful to expand a little on what lies behind each of these terms.

The process of made-to-measure involves in effect the use of a pre-set template to which a limited number of measures can be applied to make for a closer fit to a client’s figure.  Generally there will  be a limited choice available for stylistic changes such as the type of pocket or number of buttons.   Once details are finalised they are sent to a factory for the suit to be made up.  The client will have probably one more fitting where limited adjustments can be made.  The end result is something that will give a generally acceptable fit but without authentic refinement to the figure of the client.

By way of contrast, bespoke gives control to the client throughout the whole process.  There are literally no limitations to the adjustments that can be made with regard to materials, fit or style.  Also, because of the way in which the garment is made, over a period of time it will ‘mature’ and settle on the figure for which it is designed.  The fusing of materials (literally gluing together) that us used in the made-to-measure process limits this process.

Longevity also has a part to play.  We all understand only too well how our body shape changes over time.  With a made-to-measure suit it is difficult to accommodate these changes because of the way in which the garment has been constructed (see comments re fusing above).  If I were to tell you that recently I made some modifications to a suit that was made before I was born, it gives you some idea as to how bespoke stands the test of time.

So for these financially challenging days lets do a ‘back of an envelope’ calculation on the respective values of each.  The average cost of a £500 made-to-measure suit with a lifespan of about 5 years (worn once a week) works out at around £2 per week.  A bespoke suit at around £2,500, with a lifespan of 30 years, and with the same frequency of use works out at £1.60 per week.  And that is for a suit that fits.

You think that 30 years is excessive?  A number of my clients are having their grandfather’s suits re-modelled.  Go figure!

Dressing for the stage

Sunday, February 19th, 2017

When I first started business in the UK it was through a company I created called ‘The Concert Store’.  Music is a great passion of mine, and this business brought me into contact with a wide range of concert performers.

Mary Carew and Sarah Eyden in concert

Mary Carewe was one of my early clients and here she is pictured with her duet partner Sara Eyden at the Philharmonic Hall in Liverpool performing at a Bernstein Spectacular with the conductor Carl Davies.

Later in July Mary flies to the States to perform in Indianapolis, and she will be appearing at the Cadogan Hall (6-9th August) in a celebration of the music of Cole Porter.

Highland flair

Monday, January 30th, 2017

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

Wednesday, January 11th, 2017

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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