The Dagenham beginnings of Hardy Amies, clothes designer for the Queen
- Credit: Archant
It is little known that Edwin Hardy Amies, famous as an official dressmaker for Queen Elizabeth, spent much of his early life in Dagenham.
His family moved here after the First World War when Hardy’s father joined the London County Council as a resident agent for what was to become the largest public housing scheme in the world – Becontree Estate.
They moved to Gale Street Farm in Barking, an early Victorian farmhouse that no longer exists, and later settled at what is now called the White House in Green Lane to remain there for two decades.
Hardy was aged ten when he arrived in Dagenham and he attended Brentwood School in Essex.
Based in working-class east London, it was not the natural environment for someone to become a clothes designer for the upper classes.
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However, his mother had overcome a difficult upbringing to become a seamstress and then a highly-regarded saleswoman with court dressmakers.
Hardy never trained as a designer but he grew up with the business and, when he began working for Mayfair dressmakers Lachasse, his name soon became synonymous with the label.
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The rise of Hardy as a designer was during the glamour of the 1930s when London was the centre of the British Empire and was growing in its status as a fashion capital.
After the Second World War, Hardy set up his own company at 14 Savile Row. It was after this Hardy Amies Ltd became renowned for its suits and coats, but also inventive evening and day dresses.
In 1947, his designs appeared on the cover of Vogue for the first time.
But it was a call from Clarence House in 1951 to present his sketches for a certain Princess Elizabeth that shot his name to worldwide fame.
That princess became Queen in 1952, and appointed Hardy as her dressmaker.
Hardy’s biographer Michael Pick says the designer once declared: “When we have a queen on the throne, women and fashions will follow the trends set by her.”
And just as is the case with the ‘Kate Middleton effect’, the Queen’s choice of dress became a source of global interest at the time and for thereafter.
The clothes he designed for her were meant to be ‘fashionable’ without being ‘at the height of fashion’, Pick writes.
He used a format of bright colours and patterns, all to aid visibility, with skirt length no shorter than the knee, at a time when the mini-skirt was much in vogue.
He continued to design for the Queen for the next 50 years and he was knighted in 1989, bursting into tears at receiving the letter, saying: “People who get it are much more important than just a dressmaker.”
For all that Hardy was one of the most famous fashion names in Britain in the mid-20th century and despite this he never disowned his modest background where many would have.
While Hardy was a self-confessed snob, Pick writes that he would often return to Becontree and observe the needs of ordinary women.
n Hardy Amies by Michael Pick is published by ACC Editions, £45 and is available to buy from www.accpublishinggroup.com