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.