Sir Edwin Hardy Amies, KCVO (17 July 1909 – 5 March 2003), known as Hardy Amies, was an English fashion designer, founder of the Hardy Amies label and best known for his official title as dressmaker for Queen Elizabeth II, from her accession to the throne 1952 until his retirement in 1989.
He established the monarch's crisp, understated style of dress. "I don't think she feels clothes which are too chic are exactly very friendly," he told one fashion editor. "The Queen's attitude is that she must always dress for the occasion".
Hardy Amies was born Edwin Amies on 17 July 1909 in Maida Vale, London. His father was an architect for the London County Council. His mother was a saleswoman for Madame Gray at Machinka & May, London, and then Madame Durrant on Dover Street, London. In his teens, he adopted his mother's maiden name, Hardy—and always cited her as the inspiration for his chosen professional path.
Amies was educated at Brentwood School, Essex, leaving in 1927. Although his father wanted him to attend Cambridge University, it was then his ambition to become a journalist. His father relented and arranged for a meeting between his son and R. D. Blumenfeld, the editor of the Daily Express. His father was mortified when Blumenfeld suggested his son travel around Europe to gain some worldly experience.
Amies spent three years in France and Germany, learning the languages, working for a Customs Agent and then as an English-language tutor in Antibes and later Bendorf. Amies returned to England where, in 1930, he became a sales assistant in a ceramic wall-tile factory. After that, he secured a trainee position as a weight machine salesman with W & T Avery Ltd. in Birmingham.
It was Amies' mother's contacts in the fashion world, and his flair for writing, that secured him his first job in fashion. It was his vivid description of a dress, written in a letter to a retired French seamstress, that brought Hardy to the attention of the owner of the Mayfair couture house Lachasse on Farm Street, Berkeley Square, as the wearer of the dress was the owner's wife. He became managing director, in 1934, at the age of 25.
In 1937, he scored his first success with a Linton tweed suit in sage green with a cerise overcheck called "Panic". "Panic" was to be his debut into the fashion bible Vogue, photographed by Cecil Beaton. By the late 1930s, Hardy was designing the entire Lachasse collection – succeeding Digby Morton. His second celebration creation was "Made in England", a biscuit-coloured checked suit for the Hollywood ingénue Mildred Shay. He left Lachasse in 1939 and joined the House of Worth in 1941.
Second World War
At the outbreak of the Second World War, with his language experience, Amies was called to serve in the Special Operations Executive. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant from Officer Cadet Training Company on to the British Army General List on 18 May 1940. He was transferred from the General List to the Intelligence Corps on 15 July 1940. Amies suspected that SOE's commander Major General Colin Gubbins did not regard a dressmaker as suitable military material; but his training report stated:
This officer is far tougher both physically and mentally than his rather precious appearance would suggest. He possesses a keen brain and an abundance of shrewd sense. His only handicap is his precious appearance and manner, and these are tending to decrease.
Posted to Belgium, Amies worked with the various Belgian resistance groups and adapted names of fashion accessories for use as code words, while he organised sabotage assignments and arranged for agents to be parachuted with radio equipment behind enemy lines, into the Ardennes. Amies rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel, but outraged his superiors in 1944 by engaging famed photographer Lee Miller and setting up a Vogue photo shoot in Belgium after D-Day. In 1946, he was knighted in Belgium, being made an Officer of the Order of the Crown on 17 September 1948 by the prince regent of Belgium.
Amies was an integral part of Operation Ratweek, an assassination project developed by SOE to eliminate double agents and Nazi sympathizers in Belgium. In 2000, a BBC 2 documentary entitled Secret Agent named Amies as one of the men who helped to plan the murder of dozens of Nazi collaborators, but Amies disclaimed all knowledge of the matter.
Hardy Amies was quirky, yet conservative; for example, having his British Army uniform tailored on Savile Row. Years later, Hardy recalled that Kim Philby was in his mess; and, on being asked what the infamous spy was like, Hardy quipped, 'He was always trying to get information out of me—most significantly the name of my tailor'.
Hardy Amies Ltd: № 14 Savile Row
In late 1945, Virginia, Countess of Jersey, who had been a client during his at Laschasse, financed Hardy Amies move to 14 Savile Row. The following January, Amies established his own couture fashion house business: Hardy Amies Ltd. Although Savile Row is the home of English bespoke tailoring, the Hardy Amies brand became known for its classic and beautifully tailored clothes for both men and women. Hardy's business quickly took off in the postwar years when customers, who had been deprived of couture for the preceding years, snapped up his elegant, traditional designs. Hardy was quoted at the time as saying, "A woman's day clothes must look equally good at Salisbury Station as the Ritz Bar". Amies was Vice-Chairman of the Incorporated Society of London Fashion Designers (1954–56) and chairman (1959–60).
Amies was successful in business by being able to extract value from his designs, while not replicating his brand to the point of exploitation. In 1959, Amies was one of the first European designers to venture into the ready-to-wear market when he teamed up with Hepworth & Son to design a range of menswear. In 1961, Amies made fashion history by staging the first men's ready-to-wear catwalk shows, at the Savoy Hotel, London. The runway show was a first on many levels, as it was both the first time music was played and that the designer accompanied models on the catwalk.
Amies also undertook design for in-house work wear, which developed from designing special clothes for the England 1966 World Cup team, the 1972 British Olympic squad, and such groups as the Oxford University Boat Club and the London Stock Exchange. In the mid-1970s, he ventured into interior design, including designs for Crown Wallpaper.
In 1967, Amies was commissioned by director Stanley Kubrick to design the costumes for 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Amies' work was seen in a handful of other films of the 1960s: He dressed Albert Finney in Two for the Road (1967), Tony Randall in The Alphabet Murders (1965), Joan Greenwood in The Amorous Prawn (1962), and Deborah Kerr in The Grass is Greener (1960).
Queen Elizabeth II
Amies is best known to the British public for his work for Queen Elizabeth II. The association began in 1950, when Amies made several outfits for the then-Princess Elizabeth's royal tour of Canada. The award of a Royal Warrant as Official Dressmaker in 1955 gave his house respectability and publicity. Knighted in 1989, Amies held the warrant until 1990, when he gave it up so that younger designers could create for the Queen, although the House of Hardy Amies was still designing for her under Design Director Jon Moore until 2002.
ABC of men's fashion
Having written a regular column for Esquire on men's fashion, in 1964, Amies published the book ABC of Men's Fashion. Amies's strict male dress code included commandments on everything from socks to the summer wardrobe. When, in July 2009, the Hardy Amies Designer Archive was opened on Savile Row, the Victoria & Albert Museum reissued the book. He stated, "A man should look as if he has bought his clothes with intelligence, put them on with care and then forgotten all about them."
In May 1973, Hardy Amies Ltd. was sold to Debenhams, which had already purchased Hepworths who distributed the Hardy Amies line. In 1981, Amies purchased the business back. In May 2001, Amies sold his business to the Luxury Brands Group and retired at the end of the year, when Moroccan-born designer Jacques Azagury became head of couture.
- Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order K.C.V.O. awarded 17 June 1989.
- Commander of the Royal Victorian Order C.V.O. awarded 10 June 1977.
- Officer of the Order of the Crown (Belgium) awarded 17 September 1948.
Initially discreet about his homosexuality, Amies became more candid in his old age; and, when speaking of Sir Norman Hartnell, another renowned dressmaker to the Queen, he commented: "It's quite simple. He was a silly old queen and I'm a clever old queen".
Amies and his partner, Ken Fleetwood, Design Director of Hardy Amies Ltd, were together for 43 years until Fleetwood's death in 1996. Amies died at home in 2003, aged 93. He is buried in the village churchyard at Langford, Oxfordshire
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- Wilson, Scott. Resting Places: The Burial Sites of More Than 14,000 Famous Persons, 3d ed.: 2 (Kindle Location 1102). McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers. Kindle Edition.
- Hardy Amies Official Website
- Hardy Amies designer profile at [Vogue]
- Hardy Amies Style Advice article at [The Guardian]
- Hardy Amies Guide Mens Fashion reviewed inside [The Guardian]
- Hardy Amies at the Victoria & Albert Museum
- Hardy Amies designer profile at [New York Times]
- Hardy Amies obituary at [The Times]
- Hardy Amies on IMDb
Further reading :
Here Lived…, Cambridge, 1948. Just So Far, London, 1954. The ABC of Men's Fashion, London, 1964. Still Here, London, 1984. The Englishman's Suit, London, 1994. Hardy Amies. Michael Pick. ACC Publications, 2012.