Carol Alayne

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Taking craft global

Thursday, November 1st, 2012

Global tailorI’ve already written several times about the high profile networking organisation, the City Women’s Network. And not so long ago I was asked to give a presentation at one of their regular meetings. In fact it was a forum about how to develop a global aspect to your business. These days, it’s not just multinational companies that can operate globally. Even a small, specialist trade like mine can – in fact needs – a global dimension. And of course it’s now possible thanks to the internet.

I was one of a panel of four speakers. You can read about the others here. They all had legal or commercial backgrounds so at first felt I might be rather out of place, talking about my very specialised craft. But when I started to mull it over, I hit on the idea of looking at the issue in reverse.

Most people think of ‘globalisation’ in terms of establishing a presence on every continent. But my kind of globalisation is about bringing the world to my doorstep. I was reminded of a quote by my famous countryman, Ralph Waldo Emerson: ‘If a man can write a better book, preach a better sermon, or make a better mousetrap than his neighbour, though he build his house in the woods, the world will make a beaten path to his door’.

I was able to relate how important it was for specialist crafts to group together when marketing to clients globally. TfW has alliances with specialist shoemakers, hat makers, and even gunsmiths. But the big difference between our respective trades and most global brands is that we offer something unique to every client. A can of coke is the same in every corner of the globe, but a TfW suit is unique to the person wearing it.

It was flattering that everyone had favourable comments, mostly responding to the visuals of colour, texture and the look of quality in the products. I had shown images of a hand made shotgun, a set of shoe lasts and broadened my talk to include taking craft global. In Britain, there is an authentic tradition of proper training in these crafts. Support of the ancient guilds and titled craftsmen are renowned.  This attracts clients from all over the world.

I explained how the brand is not the item, but the person – the maker; and how that develops through one’s professional relationships with individual clients. An important part of the bespoke tradition is the degree to which a client may participate in the conceptualizing and creation of a unique luxury product. And in talking with colleagues in companies such as Jaeger or Holland & Holland, bespoke is becoming the new luxury experience and ownership means not just buying the product but buying into its creation.

The audience was intrigued with how different my business was to theirs – TfW is not about putting a widget on every coffee table in the world, the opposite in fact. But it was a good fit for the forum.

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

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!

Harmonicas and birthday suits

Friday, December 31st, 2010

Grand CanyonI spend much of my time focusing on the close-up detail of cutting and sewing, so half way through a full-on year at TfW I decided to take a break and treat my eyes to a panoramic feast, thanks to the Grand Canyon. The trip of a lifetime – and I’m still feeling the benefits, months later.

TfW was created nearly three years ago to cater for the women’s business suit market, and these garments are certainly proving to be our staple fare. (more…)

Tools of the trade

Wednesday, October 6th, 2010

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…)

FT features TfW

Tuesday, May 4th, 2010

FT logoI was thrilled recently to be the subject of one of Mike Southon’s columns in the London Financial Times. If you don’t take the FT you can read the online version, Dresses for Success. Mike is someone who understands business on the human scale. He values the entrepreneurship of individuals and small companies without assuming they all want to become multi-nationals. And he knows that it’s as much about relationships as it is about products and marketing. We didn’t talk much about balance sheets… (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.

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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