IAN THOMAS, who was the Queen's dress designer for over 20 years, was an atypical denizen of the world of fashion.
Unlike many contemporary fashion designers, noted for their extravagant eccentricities, he was refreshingly quiet and extremely modest about his considerable achievements. Always attired in impeccable pinstripe suits, he had the fresh, almost ruddy, face and very short haircut more usually associated with a military rather than a fashion career. This was hardly surprising for, after fashion, Thomas's greatest love was hunting and hunters; he rode and showed hunters and was a class winner at the Royal Windsor Horse Show.
Ian Thomas was born in 1929 and was from Oxford, where he studied fashion at the Oxford College of Art. On graduating in 1952 he worked as an assistant designer at Norman Hartnell. Thomas joined Hartnell at a high-water mark in that house's fortunes; out of the grand portico in Bruton Street came many members of the Royal Family at the time, notably Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother and the Queen herself. Hartnell had designed the Queen's wedding dress before Thomas joined the house, but Thomas assisted with the work on the Coronation robes. Both featured the intricate embroidery which, a tradition of the house, was to be continued by Ian Thomas in his own business.
Thomas stayed at Hartnell for 17 years, leaving to start his own couture business in Lowndes Street, Belgravia, (which subsequently moved round the corner to Motcomb Street) in 1969. Under his own label he dressed many members of the Royal Family, notably the Queen, for whom he made both day and extremely beautiful grand-occasion clothes. Having made most of the Queen's clothes for her State Visit to Paris last year, he happened to mention to her that he would have liked to see her dressed for the State Banquet. The request was granted, which explained the sight I caught of him late on the afternoon before the banquet, marching, bowler-hatted, briskly down the Faubourg St Honore with a very large white lawn dress bag over his arm.
The ensemble the model of the Queen is wearing in Madame Tussaud's is by Thomas. He also dressed, at one time or another, the Princess Royal, the Duchess of Kent, Margaret Thatcher, in her early years in power, and Mrs Robert Maxwell, as well as many members of society, all of whom appreciated the restrained and understated elegance of his clothes. His work for the Royal Family was recognised by the award of the Royal Warrant in 1973. In 1977 he was appointed MVO (later advanced LVO).
Michael Tallboys, who was at Hartnell with Ian Thomas and knew him well for over 30 years, remembers him as a 'very gentle man, dedicated to his work in the world of fashion, and to his horses', an interest he shared with the Queen who once, according to rumour, sent her vet to doctor one of Thomas's ailing corgis.
In private life he lived for his horses and was often to be seen at hunter trials. An unassuming man, he lived in a charming country house in Oxfordshire filled with beautiful objects he had collected over the years.
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