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Suits you, Sir

Hardy Amies' eclectic background took him from twee tweeds to space suits, and Essex to Savile Row. Francesca Fearon examines how his legacy is influencing the brand's creative director, Claire Malcolm

 

Designer Hardy Amies had loads of style and loads of personality, traits that live on in the menswear collections produced today by his British peer Claire Malcolm.

Malcolm, 30, joined the house as creative director in 2010 having worked previously with Kim Jones (now at Louis Vuitton), Kanye West and on Savile Row for E. Tautz, "Sir Hardy's personality was the brand and I see his traits in other guys who still work in Savile Row today," she says. "He had this eccentric eye, was very witty, very glamorous, well-travelled and intelligent - I imagine him as the perfect dinner guest."

She sees her Hardy Amies collections exploring the more extreme parts of his personality. "I look at photos of him before he started designing and think about what the Hardy Amies guy would wear today, and what currently feels right is to look back at the way gentlemen dressed." There is, she highlights, "a strong focus on tailoring and craftsmanship in menswear at the moment."

The Hardy Amies look has certain signatures; a certain proportion of lapel and collar. The English silhouette is hourglass, but Malcolm uses a softer canvas to make the jackets more comfortable to wear, yet still retain a strong shoulder line. The autumn collection was inspired by two photographs of Amies from the archive, one in a beautiful silk on grey flannel suit, the other in a shearling trimmed double-breasted overcoat. "Hardy looks Hollywood glam," she says. "I wanted a modern version of that look."

Hollywood was her other source of inspiration and Busby Berkeley's film Gold Diggers of 1933. Berkeley's signature aerial shots showed 100 dancing girls creating amazing patterns set against art deco backdrops. In a calming palette of greys, Malcolm uses these kaleidoscopic patterns for silk- shirt prints and textured weaves for her beautifully cut jackets.

Malcolm enjoys pattern cutting - the result of her mathematical mind - but at one point had considered photography rather than menswear. As a child she spent her spare time at grand prix racetracks with her father who was a Formula One photographer in the days of Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost. She confesses to being a bit of a petrol head.

After leaving art college in 2005 she spent some time in Japan and then worked with Kim Jones, who remains a close friend. She went on to design the E.Tautz line for Patrick Grant (who revived Savile Row tailor Norton & Sons). There she soaked up the Row's atmosphere and the consummate experience of those around her. "They made shirts for Frank Sinatra and Cary Grant, and I would annoy them by asking lots of questions, but they would banter all day long. I remember Roy who used to work for Tommy Nutter had amazing stories from the '60s and '70s."

Although Malcolm designs the Hardy Amies Collection, and Hardy Amies London will launch in the spring, the house still retains its bespoke tailoring business with Stuart Lamprell, the head-cutter always on hand to offer advice. And if she wants to pick the brains of other tailors then it's down to the Burlington or the Red Lion on a Friday night for more snippets from the halcyon days of Hardy Amies.

Hardy Amies Collection is available from Joyce HK and Nicole, Macau

 

MAN OF STYLE

The debonair Hardy Amies may be remembered by an older generation as the London couturier who, in the 1950s and '60s, cut sharp tweed walking suits for the young Queen Elizabeth - he was her official dressmaker for more than 40 years. And to a film buff, he is significant for designing the futuristic costumes for Stanley Kubrick's epic, 2001: A Space Odyssey. Few know that he was also a spy during the second world war.

Amies worked for fashion houses before the war, after which Cary Grant's wife, Virginia, bankrolled the designer's first collections under his own name, urging Amies into women's couture and a subsequent royal warrant from the queen. "Nothing to frighten the horses," he would quip about his dresses for her majesty, although he was no fuddy-duddy in the design stakes. Nevertheless, this handsome, charismatic designer's true passion lay in the realm of menswear - an area in which he proved quite the extrovert.

One of the founders of modern-day off-the-peg menswear, Amies staged the first catwalk show for men in 1961 at Pitti Uomo in Florence. Male models wore shorts with long socks, flat caps and capes. It was a Fred Perry meets Austin Powers moment - perhaps inspired by Amies' enthusiasm for tennis. He played in an era when men wore short shorts and long socks. The capes were a dash of showmanship.

Although based in an elegant townhouse in the heart of Savile Row, Amies was as renowned for his bespoke men's and couture women's fashion as he was for luxury ready-to-wear. A colourful, outspoken personality in his latter years, he was renowned for his bon mots: "A man should look as if he has bought his clothes with intelligence, put them on with care and then forgotten all about them."

Despite his death in 2003 at the age of 93 and the house now being part of Hong Kong's Li & Fung Group, Amies' character lives on in the menswear collections now produced by Claire Malcolm.

 

 

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