When I started out as a menswear design student at Central Saint Martins, a friend gave to me a small, blue, cloth-bound book. It had a fairly plain cover, but the author’s name – Hardy Amies – shone brightly in elegant silver lettering. It was the ABC of Men’s Fashion, and this was the moment that I first became acquainted with Sir Hardy Amies and his magnificent fashion house. I was completely fascinated by a quote that was printed on a single page at the beginning of the book. Amies famously said that ‘A man should look as if he had bought his clothes with intelligence, put them on with care and then forgotten all about them.’ I’d heard these lines before of course, but now, as a design student, they somehow seemed that much more poignant and true.
Hardy Amies began his career in fashion when he was made the Managing Director of the Mayfair couture house Lachasse in 1934. He was only 25. This was followed by a stint at the House of Worth from 1941, but at the outbreak of World War II, Amies was called to serve in the Special Operations Executive. (Rather hilariously, the SOE’s Major Commander General commented that Amies was ‘far tougher both physically and mentally than his rather precious appearance would suggest’.)
In 1945, Amies’ own couture fashion house, Hardy Amies Ltd., was established at 14 Savile Row. In 1959, Amies was one of the first European designers to venture into men’s ready-to-wear, and in 1961, he made fashion history by staging the first men’s ready-to-wear catwalk show at the Savoy Hotel in London. Onlookers were agog, with Society doyenne Lady Diana Cooper declaring, ‘Daahling… but it will never take off’. The subsequent headlines proved her quite wrong, with glowing reviews for the event. Yet Amies was no doubt best known for his official title as dressmaker for Queen Elizabeth II, from her accession to the throne in 1952 to his retirement in 1989.
Hardy Amies enjoyed a wildly successful and varied career. Not only was his brand a global success, he was also the most fantastic, ice cool eccentric, and a character I wish I could have met. A former PR man working at the house once described Amies as ‘Imperious, arrogant and pompous, but saved by great wit and a wonderful sense of humour’ – quite a brilliant mix, it must be said.
Thankfully, Hardy Amies Ltd. has survived the years and lives on as a distinguished menswear label for the modern British gentleman, now under the eye of Creative Director Claire Malcolm. Drawing on the pioneering spirit of Hardy Amies for inspiration, Malcolm has succeeded in pushing the brand to achieve startlingly fresh results. The modern Hardy Amies brand feels relevant and contemporary. In fact I’ve spent the past few seasons poring over the house’s advertising campaigns – what I love about them is that the models always appear to have an air of Sir Hardy himself – charming, aloof, exotic, yet thoroughly… British.
I must return to my beloved book. Inside, Amies waxes lyrical on everything deliciously traditional, gentlemanly and stylish, from bow ties and breeches to slippers and straw hats. Over the past few years, it has served as a well-thumbed guide, not just because I was a fashion student during this time, but because I am a young man, albeit a young man who dreams at night about Harris Tweed and bespoke jackets. Hardy Amies was clearly an inspiring gentleman for his generation, but his brand feels as exciting now as it would have felt 60 years ago. I just can’t wait to see what they will come up with next…
Luke Edward Hall