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Hardy Amies: the Savile Row King who designed for The Queen

As official dressmaker to Her Majesty for more than 35 years, Hardy Amies knew exactly what she did ­– and didn’t – want in her wardrobe, writes Austin Mutti-Mewse.

Princess Elizabeth first visited 14 Savile Row at the suggestion of the stylish Lady Alice Egerton in 1950. It was five years after World War II, and the Princess wanted to convey a ‘new look’. She was about to embark on her first official tour outside of the UK since her marriage to Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten, and a collection of day and evening wear was required.

Hardy Amies was summoned to Clarence House with his initial sketches. Amies wanted his designs to reflect her vibrancy, grace and natural charm. ‘Princess Elizabeth was very conscious that nothing be too outlandish,’ Amies said. ‘If it was deemed too much she would say, “I don’t want to look like the girl on the cover of Vogue”. I knew she simply meant it was too much.’

HM Queen in Amies 1952

Amies’ designs mirrored that of Dior; soft shoulders, an hour-glass waist and voluminous flowing skirts. The collection worked and the tour was deemed a tremendous success.

In 1955, Amies was awarded a Royal Warrant as official dressmaker to HM Queen Elizabeth II, and would ultimately be responsible for one-third of her entire wardrobe.

Amies was always sensitive to the fact that the Queen’s clothes should allow her to ‘go about her business of work’. ‘I would be a most disloyal subject, not to mention a thoroughly incompetent designer if I offered Her Majesty any clothing that was difficult for her to wear,’ he said.

Amies’ crowning glory came in 1977, HM The Queen’s Silver Jubilee year. There was no doubt that his design – a coral pink shift dress with matching coat – was the most important of his career. ‘I was moved beyond words as I saw Her Majesty in her open carriage,’ he said. An estimated 500 million people watched as the day’s events unfolded live on television.

‘Her Majesty and I got along rather well,’ said Amies, towards the end of his life, but maintained that she was always a figure who commanded immediate respect. As Amies remarked: ‘One was acutely aware of her station in life.’

HM Queen in fern grey dress with Eisenhower

Amies’ clothes for HM The Queen have been criticised for making her look matronly and plain, however Amies defended his work, maintaining that Her Majesty always requested a certain soberness in her wardrobe. ‘The Queen felt that to be terribly chic was not a friendly gesture to her audience. She didn’t want to dazzle people, only to be at one with them.’

In 1989, in recognition of his long service as dressmaker to HM The Queen, Amies was made a Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order.

Austin Mutti-Mewse is an author and curator for Hardy Amies

HM Queen sketch of grey satin fern gown - worn USA 1957
HMQ 'problem bow' dress 1980s