Hardy Amies, a History of the brand.

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The Man

Sir Hardy Amies was renowned for his witty and waspish nature. And his character never diminished – even in his late-eighties, he was still renowned for his outlandish statements and cutting rebuttals. That side of him is perhaps what many associated with the house, but he was, of course, a vastly talented and passionate designer. Over his long career as London’s most successful couturier – he was dresser to HM Queen Elizabeth II from her accession in 1952 to his retirement in 1989 – his impact on fashion history has been far-reaching. Man, his 1962 catwalk show at The Savoy, was not only stylistically ground-breaking, but also served as one of the major catalysts in the big bang of British menswear. If Hardy occasionally neglected the organisation of day-to-day responsibilities, it was simply owing to his obsession with clothing and style. His book, The ABC of Men’s Fashion, is a perfect example of the lengths he took to chaperone the men of Britain, proudly taking it upon himself to guide them away from the clutches of sartorial humiliation. One of the founders of ready-to-wear clothing for men, he remarked that his designs looked equally good on an urban English gent or an American athlete. His customers certainly agreed, and his clothes were worn by everyone from Lord Snowdon and Peter Sellers to David Hockney and Ronald Reagan. In 1966, he designed for the winning England World Cup team – in particular, its captain Bobby Moore. In dressing Patrick Macnee as super-spy John Steed in The Avengers, he also made the bowler hat fashionable again. He had experience in espionage himself during World War II, but that’s another story. Behind that public persona, Hardy was first and foremost a serious fashion designer. He operated on two principles. One: respect heritage. Two: steer clear of conformity and, even if it is just a case of donning a singularly stark accessory, be sure to stand out from the crowd. Simple doctrines, yes, but evidently ones that are as resonant and reliable now as they have ever been.

The Book (The ABC of Men’s Fashion, 1964)

The Sixties: fast cars, racy ladies, sharp suits, witty asides and a compelling mix of tradition and rebellion. Two names that managed, in very different ways, to encapsulate all those things were Hardy Amies and Esquire. Amies lorded over Savile Row with his talent, charisma and unerring eye for a hemline and a bon mot; while across the Atlantic Esquire was producing ground-breaking journalism and iconic cover images. It was perfectly natural that the two names should come together when Amies penned a regular style column for the magazine – eventually published as a book, The ABC of Men’s Fashion, in 1964. I’ve owned a copy of this masterpiece for years, and still turn to it for both style advice and entertainment. Hardy Amies’ writing was as inventive, astute and compelling as his approach to design. He really was the master of both arts – a rarity. One of my favourite entries, which gives a flavour of Hardy’s writing style and also reveals something of the dress code of the day, is this: ‘Avoid sandals and shorts: Always wear a collar and tie in town, even if it’s by the sea, after six o’clock. Never wear shorts except actually on the beach or on a walking tour. All short sleeve shirts look ghastly. Sandals are hell, except on the beach where you want to take them off – or on a boat. And, worn with socks are super hell.’ While editing British Esquire a few years back, I was acutely aware of how, when it came to offering style advice and information for 21st-century men, what we were doing was no different to what Hardy had done 40 years earlier – albeit with a more tolerant attitude towards sandals Hardy Amies’ ABC may now be a period piece of publishing, but the spirit of the man lives on in the collection that still bears his name and I would encourage you to obtain a copy of this book for your own reference, even though it was created in 1964, its content is still relevant, in my view to the common day.

The Motif

The Hardy Amies ‘HA’ monogram was the brainchild of Sir Hardy’s friend William Haines. Haines had been a matinee idol during Hollywood’s silent era, but the arrival of talkies and his reluctance to toe the line at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer led him to quit motion pictures and become, instead, one of the great West Coast interior designers. He was introduced to Hardy Amies by Hardy’s first investor, Virginia, Countess of Jersey (formerly Mrs Cary Grant), and he was in the habit of occasionally visiting the designer. It was Haines who told him in 1946 to introduce an Eastern flavour to the house – and that’s when the Chinese Chippendale chairs, tables and small dressing tables came in. These are still in the house at 14 Savile Row today. During the early Sixties, William Haines brought Nancy Reagan to visit, accompanied by Betsy Bloomingdale. Haines had just created a ‘JC’ jacquard for the movie star Joan Crawford and talked about it endlessly. Hardy loved the idea of having his initials displayed in his office space, in the salon and on all the soft furnishings, so asked the American to create something for him. He obliged and that’s how the monogram came into being in around 1969. Sixties fashion and interiors often took inspiration from the Art Deco period and quite often people mistake the decade’s designs for pieces dating from 30 years earlier. Certainly the geometric HA monogram has a Deco spirit. The Hardy Amies monogram was used extensively throughout the house – the gold salon chairs used to have the HA jacquard on their seats, for example – and there are still some original carpets and wallpaper that survive. This gave the current design team the idea to revive the pattern for new, 21st-century products. They like it, they say, because it is so elegant and subtle – the initials not readily apparent. Today, then, William Haines’ design and Sir Hardy’s initials live on, reimagined on leather goods and fabrics for a whole new generation. There are even plans to upholster leather furniture in the stores in embossed hides displaying the signature motif.

The Shoes

To this very day, Hardy Amies are still trading from their iconic Savile Row location, and, whilst their Shoes are perhaps not as well known as Jefferey West, Loake, Church's, Tricker's etc, if you look into this brand you will note that they’re a premium brand with a wealth of history. Most recently they collaborated with Trickers to create a selection of shoes that were of the highest level both in build quality and style, and anyone who appreciates quality, handmade shoe's knows that Trickers don't just enter into collaborations with anyone!! in fact if you look at the collections of both brands you will see real similarities, I actually own a pair of these shoe's and on a regular basis I am asked by friends and colleagues if I'm wearing a pair of Trickers, have a look at the Trickers range and you will see what I’m referring to here. Typically you will see designs that are quintessentially British and paying clear homage to the values and ideals of Savile Row. Worthy of a mention, in my view, is their impressive range of Brogues where you will typically see premium tan leather uppers featuring iconic punch holes and pinked edge design. Slim laces add formality while the classic wingtip detailing creating a timeless edge. Wood effect midsole and a heavy, Goodyear Welted sole complete this imposing, impressive shoe, perfect as the winter weather starts to make its presence felt. As a quality, handmade shoe enthusiast, I would always encourage having a pair of handmade, Goodyear Welted heavy tread shoes in your collection for the harsher, winter months and these, for me, have always fitted the bill perfectly hitting that balance just right with regards to great practicality without compromising style.

Also of note is that Goodyear Welted soles permit you to, if you look after your uppers correctly, replace the heel and soles whenever required enabling you to effectively keep your shoes in service for a lifetime. A lot of Brogues, whilst they may look similar in design and appearance to these, have cemented soles, which is very much a reflection, and in my view a very poor one, of the mass production, throwaway society that it ever increasingly thrust upon us, that’s a real shame as good quality handmade leather shoe’s actually improve with age if you look after them and use a good quality conditioner, its normally just the soles and heels that need replacing every few years, so, rather than buy shoes and throw them away after 12 months, why not consider starting your own legacy where your shoes can be enjoyed and worn by future generations, and with this in mind, perhaps you may like to take a closer look at what Hardy Amies have to offer.

If you have taken the time to read this, my sincere thanks, I hope that you found it interesting and informative.

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