Carol Alayne

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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

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!

Tools of the trade

Tuesday, June 6th, 2017

Da VinciI make no secret of my love of craft – the special skills, the attention to detail, the creativity. This week I’m privileged to speak at a meeting of the City Women’s Network (London), a forum for female professionals from all sectors and I’m going to return to my favourite theme of craft in the guise of tailoring. Quite by chance I came across an episode of the UK cult TV series ‘The Dragon’s Den’ the other day. (more…)

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…)

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…)

BBC Woman’s Hour, Jenni Murray, Professor Lou Taylor, and TfW

Monday, April 19th, 2010

BBC Womans HourWhat a superb opportunity.  The chance to be interviewed by Jenni Murray alongside Lou Taylor, Professor of Dress and Textile History (University of Brighton).

Although I have spoken on both MidWeek and Start the Week in the past, Woman’s Hour is such an iconic programme it was my dream that one day I would be given this opportunity.  Thanks must go to Jaeger too who first put the proposal forward to the BBC.

It really is a fascinating, almost ‘other world-y’ type of experience.  All very efficiently executed by the production staff who had to co-ordinate our own contribution with that of the other speakers, and all within their strict time allocation.

In preparation for the interview we discussed a wide range of possibilities.  In reality, however, it was something of a task to condense the history of tailoring, and at the same time include the crucial intricacies of the ‘shoulder to hip’ profile of a woman’s figure, into the confines of a 10 minute slot.  Jenni Murray was extremely deft in co-ordinating our input.

Unfortunately it may be the case that some of you outside of the UK can’t listen to the extract because of licensing restrictions.  I hope not.

P.S.  it was quite nice to see one of my jackets on the BBC Website too!

Women’s Tailoring: Genesis and Evolution

Sunday, April 18th, 2010

TfW@V&AAfter all the time spent planning, the day arrived  to give my presentation at the Victoria & Albert Museum.  Regular readers of the TfW blog will know that this was something originally put forward as a proposal almost eight months ago, so it was a super feeling to be standing in front of a packed and appreciative audience.  Fortunately I had the presence of mind to have it filmed.

My task was to open the seminar, which was beautifully hosted by the V&A’s Head of Adult Education, Jo Banham.  Following this was an intriguing presentation by Jaeger.  This year is their 125th anniversary and it was wonderful to see some of the pieces and pictures from their archive.  I have a couple of vintage Jaeger pieces myself dating from the time Jean Muir was their designer and I treasure them.

Following this, Alan Cannon Jones, Senior Lecturer at the London College of Fashion talked about some of the new trends in tailored fashion, and some of the techniques that are used to support them.

The video attached to this post gives an edited version of my own contribution.  There were also a number of Q&A points throughout the seminar and I plan to include some of the issues that were raised in future posts.

The topics I covered ranged from a whistle-stop tour of the history of women’s tailoring to an exploration of the practical skills that support it.  This included the consideration of the physiological aspects, hand-crafting techniques, and the complex psychology that underlies the relationship with one’s client.   I concluded with some thoughts around the future of women’s tailoring with reference to a statement I had compiled from the opinions of my clients.

“Women should have same the opportunities for investing in their wardrobes in the same way that they invest in their careers”

I hope that you don’t have too many problems with the download.

Waistcoats with warmth and personality: TfW’s new Limited Edition Gilet. Scroll down to order.

Wednesday, April 14th, 2010

TfW GiletSo, why are we always talking about the weather!  I’m not one for making rash statements, but I’m willing to stick my neck out and predict that over the next few months the weather everywhere is going to be unpredictable. So the question of what to wear if, like me, you have an active outdoor and indoor life, starts to get tedious. A coat or not? A warm jacket? Will it rain? It’s sunny but it’s cold and windy… How to minimise having to shed layers every time you arrive in a building or jump in the car?

It’s a dilemma I’ve been pondering for some years and I’ve recently realised that our changing weather patterns are making it worse. So I got to work.

Thanks to my experience in the tailoring of country pursuits garments I was already aware of the extremely practical nature of the gilet – a sleeveless jacket often seen worn by ‘county women’ everywhere. Practical yes, but fashionable – very questionable.

Yet why not, I thought? Why not take the perfect answer to unpredictable weather and transform it into something that will look striking in almost any indoor or outdoor situation, without losing its practicality?

TfW Gilet collarIntroducing TfW’s Limited Edition Gilet. An all-season, comfortable, light, multi-use, warm, feminine garment which will eliminate cumbersome multi-weather dress problems for good. The gilet is sleeveless, which means freedom of movement. It can be worn over a business suit or under a topcoat. And its two-way zip enables you to adjust the front closure to suit almost any circumstances, whether driving or walking, sitting in a train or cycling indeed.

But crucially, I’ve hand-crafted the TfW Gilet to look good anywhere – at work, evenings out, walking the dog, shopping… TfW Gilet liningThere’s a selection of classic William Morris cotton print linings …

The garment is made from boiled wool, a fabric shrunk during manufacture so that it will retain its posture whatever the circumstances for the life of the garment.

And something else I learned from my country pursuits experience – handbags can be bad news when coping with windy or rainy conditions. So the TfW Gilet contains carefully crafted, fully lined pockets – for coins, mobile, travel documents, spectacles. And two secure internal zip pockets for credit cards, passes, etc.

An entirely original limited edition – but with unlimited style.

All photos: Keith Hern

Over under sideways down

Friday, March 12th, 2010

TfW sleeveIt’s strange how music makes unusual connections in our brain. I was listening by chance to an old Yardbirds hit from 1966 – Over under sideways down… just as I was marking up some new cloth, when I realised that they were singing about exactly what I was doing! Cloth arrives folded with the wrong side facing out and right side protected in. (more…)

Press, presentations and processes

Thursday, November 5th, 2009

Business Sense MagazineIt’s been a busy week so far.  I was thrilled to be featured alongside Sir Martin Sorrell and ‘Dragon’s Den’ Duncan Bannatyne in Business Sense Magazine, the National Westminster Bank’s national periodical.  The rest of my time has been spent focussing on my presentation at the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) with Jaeger.  The process of tailoring is something which tends to take place away from public scrutiny, so being given such a prominent platform demands careful thought about why the art of bespoke is so unique.

It seems to me that the distinctive experience my clients seek is comprised of the knowledge and integration of three important and fundamental elements. Physiology, technique and …psychology.

Physiology is all about understanding the shape and proportions of the body, not as an object frozen in time, but as a dynamic entity that Body Shapeschanges and flows as it moves.  Most textbooks illustrate body types in 4 or 5 basic postures, but the devil is in the difference.  I have yet to find a client whose shape fits these proportions precisely.  I often give group seminars and set the participants the task of finding someone in the room that matches their own body shape.  It hasn’t happened so far!

Technique is something which takes time to develop.  It’s said that it takes 10,000 hours to reach a competent level of skill in any chosen activity.  This may be so, but I find that I still look to expand my own skills base, and that is after over 20 years in the trade.  The art of tailoring is still grounded in techniques that were developed in the 19th century, although the records show evidence as far back as the 13th century.  Modern materials, the change in life styles and modern body proportions all influence the ways in which these techniques have to be applied so they have to be constantly revisited and refreshed.

Tailoring is a relationship business.  We have to dress the body and the mind.  So, the psychology of the relationship with ones client is paramount.  This is all the more so as the current changes in society affects the role of women and how they wish to be perceived.

I was speaking with a former CEO of a global PR firm the other day who mentioned how he always emphasised the need for his staff to think of the image they portrayed when they visited clients.  “They have to realise that if they are charging a four figure sum per day, the first impression they give their client as they walk in the room is vital, and this is dependent largely upon how they look”.

A potent statement when you consider how this simple matter can undermine the huge investment that has gone into training the company representative.

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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