Post Memories: Exhibition celebrates Dagenham designer who created clothes for the Queen

Model Barbara Goalen and Hardy Amies photographed by John French

Model Barbara Goalen and Hardy Amies photographed by John French - Credit: Archant

Hardy Amies created clothes for the Queen and the 1966 World Cup kit. But he came from humble beginnings, as Zoah Hedges-Stocks discovers ahead of an exhibition about his work.

A hand-signed Hardy Amies label

A hand-signed Hardy Amies label - Credit: Archant

His designs may have feted the elite but fashion designer Hardy Amies had a more down to earth upbringing than he implied. Before he dressed Bobby Moore and the rest of the England 1966 World Cup squad and made clothes for none other than the Queen, he lived in Dagenham – and a new exhibition at Valence House which opens on Saturday is set to further uncover his links to the borough.

The Amies moved to the area in 1919 when Hardy’s dad, an architect, was tasked with buying up land for the Becontree estate.

Initially the family lived at Gale Street Farm but in 1923 they moved into Burleighs Farm – now known as the White House.

Amy de la Haye, a professor at the London College of Fashion, notes that Hardy’s upbringing is quite at odds with the image he put forward to the public when he became well-known.

Gale St Farm circa 1920

Gale St Farm circa 1920 - Credit: Archant

“If you see him on film, he constructed a very elite context for himself and it’s fascinating that he grew up in Dagenham,” she said.

It was while visiting the White House for research for Hardy Amies: A Dagenham Designer that Amy met a carpenter who was asked to help restore Hardy’s former home by a friend who knew of his love for the designer.

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When Steve Lawrence overheard her talking about the exhibition, he revealed that he had come to work that day in a Hardy Amies suit, before changing into his work gear.

Now two of his suits are appearing in the Becontree Avenue exhibition – but the 53-year-old admits that he started buying them for purely practical reasons.

Hardy's family later lived in the The White House

Hardy's family later lived in the The White House - Credit: Archant

“I started getting some retro suits a few years ago and was looking for something thick and heavy – a working man’s suit,” he explained.

“I found this suit and felt the cloth and thought ‘that’s what I want’.”

He discovered a Hardy Amies label in the lining – and ended up becoming as interested in the designer’s fascinating life as he is in his clothes.

During WWII, Hardy worked in the Special Operations Executive, and was the only soldier to have his uniform tailored on Savile Row.

A Jubilee outfit worn by the Queen

A Jubilee outfit worn by the Queen - Credit: Archant

In peacetime, he opened his own shop on the prestigious street, and became an early pioneer of ready-to-wear tailoring.

“He completely changed the way men bought suits in this country,” Steve enthused.

“He invented the modern fashion show, with music and the designer coming out at the end, at the Savoy Hotel in 1962.”

Despite the designer’s high fashion roots, Steve insists that his hobby actually saves him money.

“I just picked up an Amies suit eBay for £5,” he added. “I got a cashmere coat by him for a penny once.”

His clothes still look stylish 13 years after his death – but perhaps that’s not surprising given that he designed the space age costumes for Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Amy said that the story of Hardy’s unusual life makes the exhibition “very human and accessible”.

Personal objects such as Hardy’s school cap sit alongside vintage pictures of Dagenham teddy boys – and the suit the Queen wore for her Silver Jubilee in 1977.

“It’s really interesting because it gives a completely different perspective in him, exploring the place he grew up in,” she added.

The free show is open Saturdays to Tuesdays until January 28.