Carol Alayne

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Archive for the ‘Looking good’ Category

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…)

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.

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

All in a day…dress

Tuesday, January 10th, 2017

I am afraid that the blog posts had to take a slight seat to oneside over the past couple of weeks.  The V&A seminar,  an invitation to speak on the BBC’s iconic radio programme Woman’s Hour, and a new commision from the King’s Singers have all given life an added spice just in time for Christmas.  That is excluding the daywear pieces I have had to see through for my regular clients.

I don’t know why, but there appears to be a resurgence in the orders for daydresses amongst my clients.  This one will be sent off to Amsterdam in the next couple of days.

It makes a change from the 2-pc jacket with trousers or skirt, maybe due to the use of the dress as an alternative to stretch the wardrobe.

The lure of the daydress is its practicality.  It can be as versatile as a suit, and its sense of tailored femininity gives a figure enhancing simplicity.

I see the advantage in its flexibility;

  • can be worn from day to evening
  • is easily accommodated and accessorised with staple garments
  • comfortable, with less fit and constriction at the waist
  • with colour and detail it can enhance proportions

It has an inbuilt convenience too when it comes to travelling; much easier to pack than a suit.

And there are many variations;

  • Shirtwaist, a dress with a bodice (waist) like a tailored shirt and an attached straight or full skirt
  • Sheath, a fitted, often sleeveless dress, often without a waistseam (1960s)
  • Shift, a straight dress with no waist shaping or seam (1960s)
  • Jumper dress (American English) or Pinafore dress (British English) is a sleeveless dress intended to be worn over a layering top or blouse. Jumper dresses exist for both summer and winter wear.
  • Sundress is an informal sleeveless dress of any shape in a lightweight fabric, for summer wear.
  • Tent, a dress flared from above the bust, sometimes with a yoke (1960s, renewed popularity after 2005)
  • Maxi dress, a long, formfitting, floor or ankle length dress.
  • Wrap dress, a dress with a front closure formed by wrapping one side across the other and knotting the attached ties on the side, or fastening buttons. This forms a V-shaped neckline and hugs a woman’s curves. A faux wrap dress resembles this design, except that it comes already fastened together with no opening in front, but instead is slipped on over the head. (1970s; renewed popularity from late 1990s)

Here is something with a wholly different sense of ‘attitude’ which was commissioned from me during my time at Hardy Amies.

I feel that a tailored daydress is a very good start when planning a wardrobe, and also a welcome addition to a set of staple garments already in place.

Strike up the brand!

Friday, November 25th, 2016

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…)

That thing called Swing

Monday, May 30th, 2016

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….?

The power of good service

Saturday, July 17th, 2010

Bluegold MacawWe all understand the term ‘power dressing,’ referring to how the style and cut of garments can enhance an air of power and authority. Of course we might not always want say ‘I am the boss’, or ‘I am the richest’. We might want to say ‘I am the most popular’ or ‘I am the coolest’. But most people, at some time in their lives, choose their clothes to say ‘like me/love me’ or ‘obey me/listen to me’ or just ‘notice me – I am unique’. And of course once these basic games have been learned, the mind-games clothes can play start to become more interesting. (more…)

Funga Safari!

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

TfW Safari DressFunga Safari… was just what someone needed to tell me last week. Summer was beginning to sink in at last, not just in terms of the weather, but also the shift in colours and textures you can see in clothes shops everywhere as safari collections sprout into view. So after a particularly busy week, I was looking forward to funga safari – literally, ‘halting the march’. In Swahili.

Of course I needed to do a little bit of research to discover that, not being a fluent Swahili speaker. And not surprisingly it was sparked off by my own personal safari (literally, journey) with a commission for a cotton drill dress – with a hint of allure.

TfW Safari dress collarSo naturally, the world of safari clothing sprang to mind. Khaki colours, bush jackets, belted shirts, pith helmets and slouch hats.

But I was aiming for something which would capture the mood of the safari look without losing its urban elegance; something earthy, sunny and breezy. TfW Safari dress profileWearing it should make you feel light and summery.

It has a two-way zip closure – fingertip temperature control – and the sleeves can be rolled up to reveal the contrast in the facing fabric. TfW Safari dress zipI chose leather detail for highlights to mark the centre back yoke and the zipper pulls on the front and pockets. Just a hint of earthiness there. It’s a bespoke garment of course, but now I’ve finished it, I feel sure the concept will appeal to many others.

TfW Safari dress To round off my modest foray into safari research, I discovered that the Regimental March of the King’s African Rifles was ‘Funga Safari’, presumably a welcome sound after a long day marching through the bush. So I’ll stop here and let you admire the pictures.TfW Safari dress sleeve

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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