If Queen Elizabeth’s style is unmistakably, um, her own, the man to look to is Hardy Amies, who has been responsible for much of her wardrobe for a third of a century. Now 75, he is celebrating his 50th year in fashion and has just published part two of his autobiography, puckishly titled Still Here. He plans to continue designing “until I’m senile,” he says. “I’m absolutely astonished at my success. I have such
little talent, but…I do have style.”
The dashing couturier is also intensely diplomatic, which is no small part of the Queen-dressing job. “I have never known the Queen not to succeed in getting the dress right for the occasion,” he says, pointing out that criticisms of her are often based on photographs. Amies says the Queen comes to him “for her ‘best clothes,’ ” while the rest of her business, too much for one designer, goes to the house of the late Norman Hartnell and to Ian Thomas, a Hartnell protégé.
Elizabeth is a demanding customer, but nonetheless she’s always right. Skirts must not be so short as to ride up when she sits; nor should they be so full as to blow in the wind. Jackets must be buttoned so as not to appear awkward when she waves. “It is not becoming” for the 5’3″, size-10 Queen “to be frivolous,” says Amies. Accompanied by Miss Lilian, who fits the Queen’s dresses, and Mr. Michael, who fits her jackets and coats, Amies visits Buckingham Palace more than a dozen times a year for fittings—often before royal journeys. Indeed, barely three days before she embarked on her current tour of Canada and the U.S., Elizabeth summoned Amies for a final fitting of wool dresses and coats.
Amies specializes in an over-40 clientele, and counts Joan Sutherland, Princess Michael of Kent and Lady Spencer, Princess Diana’s stepmother, among his regulars. The Princess of Wales herself has yet to call. “We could do a marvelous job for her,” says Amies, “but we’re very busy anyway, thank you very much.”
Born in London, Amies is the son of a surveyor and a dress-shop saleswoman. Even as a child he displayed a flair for dressing people. Recalls his sister, Rosemary: “At 11, he’d drape me in towels after our baths and make a train and tell me to go show our mother.” There was no money for college, but eventually Hardy’s mother arranged a job for him as a showroom manager at the London fashion house of Lachasse.
“I leapt into fashion and felt completely at home,” he says. He opened his own house in 1945. “I come from clearly humble circumstances. But having seen so many duchesses in their underpants, I sort of acquired a certain veneer of gentility.” In 1960 he started his own menswear line, which today accounts for some 80 percent of his estimated $150-million-a-year business. Says Amies: “I’ve always been a better tailor than a dressmaker.”
On weekends Amies, who has never married, retreats from his Savile Row premises to a converted schoolhouse 75 miles west of London, where he gardens, plays tennis and does needlepoint. On his 75th birthday last July, Amies announced that he was leaving his firm to his staff. Not that he expects the changeover to come soon. “I have managed to get tickets for Centre Court at Wimbledon up to 1990,” he has said. “I plan to be there.”