The amiable dressmaker to the Queen, who later became my style guru, once called me a ‘closet queen’ when he saw the lining of my jacket suit .
Sir Hardy Amies combined bravery with a queenly mien in his private life. His perceptive eye and discerning taste gave him an inimitable chic and elegance behind which lurked a wicked sense of humour which never failed him and could be deadly.
He did not despise women’s minds as some feminists claimed. A more appropriate assessment would have been that he understood them less. For the uninitiated in high camp, his sharp wit was very likely to be misconstrued – but his generosity of spirit more than made up for the acerbity that characterised so many of his impromptu pronouncements. Invariably funny, with a slight sting in the tail, they bore not a thread of malice. I often found myself at the sharp end of some of these remarks, which I regarded as more banter than put-down. They were simply typical of the rich repartee with which he often enlivened an otherwise dull occasion.
My friendship with him came about as a result of my publishing his book, The Englishman’s Suit, in 1994. It sprang up over lunch in my Regent Street dining room when he asked me whether I would be interested in looking at a manuscript he had written, with a view to publishing it. He wanted a quick answer from me, unlike those other publishers, he said, who sat on manuscripts for months and then sent a curt rejection slip. I promised I would give him my answer within one week. True to my word, I did just that, and promised the book would be published within six months.
Naturally he was delighted. To show his appreciation, he dedicated the book to me, conspiring with the Quartet staff to keep this totally secret till finished copies arrived. His inscription carried a double entendre: ‘To Naim, who took a week to say yes.’ It brought the colour to my face when I saw it, coming as it did from a famous queen. It was the ultimate expression of unadulterated cheek, but in a curious sort of way it endeared him to me. It was another example of his roguish sense of humour, which I had encountered on many occasions. Once, sitting next to him on his insistence at one of his fashion shows, I was treated to a commentary on some of his creations that was hilarious. He would nudge me and say of a particularly attractive dress in a loud voice, for he was partially deaf, ‘Any old bag would look good in it!’
On another occasion, seeing me at a black-tie dinner hosted by Vogue, he told my wife that in my attire – which incidentally I considered to be very smart – I looked just like a waiter. When I reproached him for this remark, he remained adamant. The following week he sent me the most splendid design for a black-tie outfit, drawn in colour, which he said was being cut specially for me at that very moment. Two fittings later I found myself the proud owner of a most distinguished and exclusive suit, tailored with Amies’s usual flair and attention to detail. It marked the beginning of a new phase in our friendship; he began sending me his latest men’s designs so that my tailor in the East End could copy them for my benefit. This was his response after I told him that his fashion house was far too expensive for my budget.
Needless to say, I had a soft spot for him, and he beamed with joy whenever I was in his company. Very few people knew about his record as a war hero till his obituaries were published after he died on 3th March 2003.
The Evening Standard had included another nice example of Amies’s repartee, taken from my interview with him in October 1992, under the following heading:
Exquisite types tend to be lured to haute couture, but few are finer than Sir Hardy Amies, the Queen’s dressmaker since 1960. Now at eighty-three, he has given the world a flash of his soul, disclosing an enduring obsession.
‘I love flesh, I’m very tactile, very MTF – must touch flesh,’ he said. ‘I’m tremendously physical but I can’t say I have ever desired a woman,’ added Sir Hardy. ‘I did once get engaged to a girl, but I cannot think why; it wasn’t that I wanted to go to bed with her.’
Asked if he had ever fallen madly in love, Amies replied: ‘Oh yes…every week, mainly with the milkman.’ Sadly he was disinclined to elaborate on this association. ‘Oh dear, oh dear, I was just passing that off as a joke,’ he told me from New York. ‘I hope the milkman doesn’t take that seriously.’
His book The Englishman’s Suit is reissued today to remind us of his great contribution to an Englishman’s wardrobe.
Auberon Waugh wrote at the time of its first publication: ‘This slim, witty book is much more than a treatise on the Englishman’s suit…it is wonderfully enjoyable reading, rather like Galahad at Blandings.’
I miss the old bugger, for he was a man for all seasons, irreverent, witty and above all a most loyal and generous friend.