Sir Hardy Amies, dressmaker to the Queen, died yesterday at his home in the Cotswolds, aged 93. Known for his acid wit as well as for the creation of the vivid but simple and feminine royal style, Amies retired only recently. In May 2001, he sold his Savile Row business to the Luxury Brands Group, presided over by David Duncan Smith, the older brother of Iain.
His retirement marked the end of an age. Amies formed the last bastion of British couture, holding twice-yearly shows where a small but loyal and well-heeled clientele filed into his showroom to take their place on little gilt chairs and applaud womenswear that upheld the great British tradition of clothes that were beautifully made but conservative.
A woman of breeding would not be comfortable parading about town – or country – dressed like the proverbial Christmas tree, and, though he was criticised for promoting a look that was dowdy, Amies understood this, perhaps more than any designer.
Brought up in the North-west London suburb of Wembley, he was the son of a local government surveyor and a Bond Street seamstress. He took his mother's maiden name, Hardy, and always cited her as inspiration for his chosen professional path.
After leaving school in 1926, he spent four years learning French, while he worked for a firm of carriers and customs agents in Paris, and German, when employed by a business producing ceramic tiles.
Back in England in 1934 and aged 25, his mother's contacts secured him the post of manager of Lachasse, a traditional couture house, where he worked until 1939. In the Second World War, Amies joined the Intelligence Corps as a private but was soon promoted to lieutenant-colonel in charge of special forces in Belgium. In 1946 he founded his dress-making business, designing for Princess Elizabeth. In 1955, he was appointed the Queen's dressmaker responsible for most of her wardrobe – from ballgowns to practical day dresses and walking suits. He retired from this post, aged 80, with the Queen's blessing, but not before she had knighted him in 1989.
Amies said of the Queen's dress requirements: "I don't think she feels chic clothes are friendly. The Queen's attitude is that she must always dress for the occasion, usually for a large mob of middle-class people towards whom she wishes to seem friendly."
Amies, while making no effort to hide his humble origins, was also the consummate snob – and proud of the fact. In 1961 he turned his hand to dressing men or, as he himself might have said, gentlemen. "A man should look as if he bought his clothes with intelligence, put them on with care, then forgot about them," he once said – a neat summation, if ever there was one, of the well-mannered and restrained British style.
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