Carol Alayne

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Archive for 2017

Briefing for Bespoke: Line, shape, proportion

Saturday, December 30th, 2017

You may have caught the compelling TV series “Madmen“.  The story of the how the advertising industry took fire on Madisson Avenue in the 60’s.  (30 years earlier the father of PR, Edward Bernays had started the ball rolling by helping the tobacco industry sell cigarettes to women with the somewhat questionable byline ‘A Torch for Liberty’!).  In one episode an eager young secretary was given this down to earth advice from one of her more seasoned colleagues with regards to dressing in the work place.”Go home, cut 2 holes in a paper bag, put it over your head, stand in front of a mirror and take a good look at your at yourself”.  A novel way indeed to assess your body line, but also one that is not too far off the mark.  The first step in deciding how to dress is to get an accurate understanding of your own unique body shape and how to accommodate its proportions.

I can sense that for some this may be something that requires a little courage, but to help you, here is a method that you might find more effective than the ‘paper bag’ solution.
You will need:

  • a digital camera
  • a printer
  • a marker pen
  • some tracing paper or similarBody Shape

Over your usual foundation garments put on a leotord or some similar  body-hugging garment.  Using the self portrait setting on your camera,  take full length pictures of yourself from two aspects; the front and the side.   Print these out in full on A4 paper.  With the pen and  tracing paper copy the outline of your body, then mark in the top of your head, shoulder line, bustline, waistline, hip line, knees, elbows and wrists.

An alternative methoed for perhaps the more creatively inclined I learned from the artist Kristin Newton who has her students stand in front of a mirror looking at their reflected image through a sheet of perspex held a short distance from their face; it is important to view it with just one eye open in order not to distort the perspective.  Then trace around the outline of your body’s image in the mirror directly on to the perspex with a marker.

Before we go to the next stage however, let’s take a step back into antiquity and look at Golden Rationhow  proportion was perceived by  the old Masters using the system known as the Golden Section, or the Golden Ratio.  This is a special mathematical relationship whereby a line, divided into two parts (a, b) has a relationship between the whole and its parts so that the ratio between the small section (b) to the larger section (a) is equal to the ratio between the larger section and the whole i.e. a:b = (a+b):a.

This image showing how the Golden Section was applied is from a study carried out at the Virginia Wesleyian College into Bottecelli’s Birth of Venus.

You can see how ‘perfection’ was perceived as a matter or proportion.  The reality is that few of us conform to this sylph-like ideal, however what we aspire to when selecting the style of a garment is to give the illusion of a well balanced proportion.

Now, using both tracings and photographs, take note of  the areas where the body mass is most emphasised.  Compare how the shape of the silhoutte changes between the bust, waist and hip.  Notice the degree of definition of the waist, small of the back, hips and bottom. The reason for using both tracings is that you may find, for example, from the front aspect you appear full and round, whereas from the side you may have a flatter silhouette.

The way in which we can start to balance out our proportions is by using two separate systems of analysis.  A Body Type template (you will need a pdf viewer to access this file) which associates one’s proportions with suggestions for silhouette, fabrics, details and patterns, and a set of supplementary modifications I have called Qualifiers which help with the vertical and horizontal rebalancing.

With statistics showing that most women wear 20% of their wardrobe 80% of the time,  perhaps with a little more knowledge in how to select for proportion, these statistics can be encouraged to change.  Fashion is one thing, the bodies we were graced with is another!

Initial Image: thanks to Guardian/BBC/AMC

Several Saviles

Sunday, December 10th, 2017

Savile RowDuring the summer my thoughts were solicited by THINK, a style magazine based in Dubai. It was running an article on the latest in bespoke tailoring and how a personal ‘image’ is so important even in the highly regimented worlds of international business and finance. It was especially encouraging for me that the magazine’s correspondent, Ashlee Beard, chose to mention the female angle (more…)

Button up your overcoat, when the wind is free…

Friday, December 1st, 2017

It’s time to sing that chorus again.  With the evenings drawing in and the temperature  falling,  we will need to think of bundling up in a few more layers when we go out.  For those who plan ahead, the ever reliable overcoat waiting in the back of the wardrobe can be taken out for an airing and a good brush…an old friend with lots of memories, here again to keep you snug.

Overcoats come in all sorts of styles; topcoats, peacoats, cover coats, crombie etc.  They are as wonderful a garment as they are essential, and can give real authority to a wardrobe.  Like a piece of sculpture, they help make you look smart and poised. I feel they are the epitome of style and good taste when the weather begins to turn.  Worn over a business suit or daywear, they come in a range of weights and fabrics.  Camel hair, cashmeres, wools or the luxurious vicuna can be styled into any design from above knee to ankle length.  The longer the length the better the protection.

Coats often have an interesting history.  For example, the polo coat originally started out as a simple camel-hair wrap coat, like a large blanket.  It was something the riders threw over their shoulders, like a bathrobe, while waiting to resume play. Originally it was called a ‘wait’ coat but in the 1920s, when English polo players were first invited to play in matches on Long Island (NY), the swagger of these coats didn’t go unnoticed, and they soon appeared on East coast campuses. By 1930, polo coats had supplanted the raccoon coats at the Yale-Princeton football game; a decided stamp of approval.

This coat for one of my women clients has a ‘button-tab’ collar.  It’s an unusual design that evolved as a means of keeping out the chill wind.  The lapel and top collar roll-line open and cross over at the center front fully covering and protecting the upper chest and neck area.  With an under collar from matching cloth, instead of the melton collar one sees in most men’s tailoring, it looks equally smart whether open or closed.

To emphasise the accents in this colourful Donegal tweed, and to add an eye-catching finish I  hand-worked each button hole in a different colour silk twist.

My own worsted wool overcoat, inspired by the ‘swing’ style of the 40’s, has a magnificent autumnal check and finishes just 3″ above the ankle.  It covers all skirt lengths and is one of my cosiest items.  Real weather…..bring it on!

TfW, Jaeger and the V&A

Wednesday, November 1st, 2017

V & A montageI was thrilled recently to speak alongside a representative from the global brand Jaeger about women’s tailoring.  We were both making a contribution to the Victoria & Albert Museum’s continuing series of lectures on fashion which has involved iconic figures such as Zandra Rhodes and Twiggy.

Jaeger is currently celebrating its 125th anniversary.  It is an iconic brand which has always specialized in the use of natural fibres, including the so-called noble fibres such as angora, vicuna and alpaca; it was also the first company to use camel hair.  Clients have included Vivienne Leigh, Marilyn Monroe, and even George Bernard Shaw who was particularly fond of a one piece structured ‘jump suit’ which allowed complete freedom of movement. Nowadays Jaeger is at the forefront of high quality manufacturing using state-of-the-art machines that simulate the sewing actions of a live craftsman.

My part in the event was to fulfil a contrasting role. I expounded upon the art of bespoke for women, its history and its processes.  From the initial measurements, drafting of the paper pattern, preparation of the fittings and internal structures through to the final finishing and pressing.

Working on this presentation reminded me about how the relationship with one’s client is both intimate and integral to the process.  Mark Twain talked of Clothes making the man” (or woman!), and we know that this is very much evident on the high streets today. Hand crafted garments however give the opportunity for a client to give full and uninterrupted rein to their desires, and the opportunities for personal expression are much more subtle.  The quality of the rapport between client and tailor therefore cannot be underestimated.

At the reception after the presentations we had the opportunity to talk one-to-one with audience members and show in greater detail some of the intricacies of our practice.

 

Photo: thanks to Simon at http://photo-montage.blogspot.com

Trouser roles

Saturday, October 21st, 2017

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!

The Red Dress

Sunday, October 1st, 2017

Red dress 04Last week I put the finishing touches to this glorious red dress and sent it on its way to New York for a client who will attend the Tony Awards on Broadway in a few days’ time. She will not feature on any of the artiste lists at the ceremony as her involvement in theatre is as an investor. An unsung but essential (more…)

Is tailoring eco-friendly?

Sunday, September 17th, 2017

One of the things I find most satisfying about tailoring is the opportunity to create practical but aesthetic garments. The perfect combination of usefulness and artistry! And of course these days we all benefit from hi-tech scientific developments both in the processing of fabrics and in the development of new materials.

These thoughts occurred to me as I came across a whole flurry of articles linking fashion and sustainable development: ‘green’ fashion, fashion and the environment, ‘organic’ fashion even. But wait a minute, I thought… (more…)

When less is more

Wednesday, August 30th, 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…)

Sensational Butterflies

Tuesday, August 1st, 2017

‘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….’

Women tinkering with tailoring! Why not do it for real

Thursday, July 27th, 2017

MarleneAnnie Hall” hit the mark perfectly some 30 years ago in the eponymous film by Woody Allen.   From top down, her combination of trilby, shirt and tie, waistcoat and chinos hooked a generation of women into the masculine look.  Although she was by no means the first person to do so.  Think of Marlene Dietrich and the allure of her androgynous cross-dressing.

It seems that every autumn the fashion press re-visits this theme of masculine dressing and it appeared again in the London Telegraph last week.

I find however that many of the images with which the world of fashion presents us rarely features the full potential of the tailoring tradition when it responds to the needs of the female form.

Historically the bespoke suit evolved to fit the male proportions with a cut and underlying structure that emphasised a strong shoulder line with sculptured upper body, and a defined waist which flattered and elongated the masculine silhouette.  This is still very much the case; however women require something that is altogether different.

When tailoring for women the shoulder line needs something much neater and more delicate, and as one moves down the torso from bust to hip the complexity of the female form and its natural asymmetries requires a much greater awareness of the subtle gradations of the all-round profile which then have to be transferred to a balanced pattern unique to the client.

Although there are obvious differences in requirements from client to client, in the short journey from shoulder to hip I have to take many more measures for a woman’s suit, different ones too, than I would for that of a man’s.  And on top of this tolerances have to built in to take into account the cyclical changes in a woman’s figure.

A frequent comment from my clients is that they feel “trussed up as if in a suit of armour”.  I would suggest that this need not be the case and that with greater attention to the point outlined above, and some modifications to the traditional internal structuring, a woman’s bespoke suit can be just as crisp as a man’s, giving a much more flattering and enjoyable “wearing experience” that responds even to the different way in which a woman moves.

Fashion may be one thing…the board room is another.

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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