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From SOE Hero to Dressing the Queen (Hardback)

The Amazing Life of Sir Hardy Amies

Military P&S History > By Century > 20th Century P&S History > Social History

By Ms Lynda Rowland
Imprint: Pen & Sword Military
Pages: 224
Illustrations: 32 mono illustrations
ISBN: 9781399049948
Published: 3rd October 2023

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Sir Hardy Amies was one of Britain’s foremost fashion designers who led a fascinating double life as a couturier and an intelligence officer during the Second World War. Sir Hardy’s work for the Belgian resistance effort as part of the Special Operations Executive, was so significant that he was awarded l’Ordre de la Couronne, or Order of the Crown, by the Belgian Government in 1948. Not only did Sir Hardy conduct these operations, but he also simultaneously developed his burgeoning fashion business through the British Board of Trade’s drive to promote UK manufacturing throughout the conflict.

He was a man who at once epitomised and challenged the reality of being homosexual in an era when society was deeply unaccepting. He was thrust into what was an overtly macho and potentially hostile environment and, against that backdrop, made a valuable and courageous contribution to the war effort.

Born into what we would consider a lower middle-class family, he was handsome, cultured and gregarious and effortlessly traversed the post-war world of high society, launching his haute couture house to great acclaim, gaining clients ranging from film stars to royalty. His work for Queen Elizabeth II saw him awarded the CVO in 1977 and this was elevated to the KCVO, Knight Commander of the Victorian Order in 1989. Her Majesty’s warmth of feeling towards Sir Hardy is evident in the many hand-written thank-you letters she sent him over the course of their long working relationship.

Sir Hardy, who lived until the age of 93, could have been dismissed as a lightweight character from the frivolous world of fashion. However, despite a not-particularly extensive formal education, he was highly intelligent, extremely well-travelled and spoke three languages, and his story encapsulates the extraordinary cultural and societal turbulence of the twentieth century.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I was rather excited to see this book on NetGalley. Norman Hartnell remains one of the most popular British couturiers who has outfitted the late Queen but Hardy Amies was also one of Her Majesty’s favourite designers. And now we have a new updated look at the talented designer’s life.

Many of the favoured designers of the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s served in the military during the Second World War, like Hartnell, Christian Dior, and Jacques Fath. Their service tends to be forgotten- I think that many authors who write general fashion history books like to focus on the fashion to the exclusion of all else. Unfortunately, this means that much of these designers’ life stories get lost.

Rowland covers Sir Hardy Amies’ full life, including a dedicated section on his military service. I will admit- I know relatively little about life in the military, so I appreciated the straightforward way that this section was written. It is an easy-to-read biography; it gives needed background to Amies’ later career.

Of course, I was also happy to read about Amies’ career as a designer. I appreciate that Rowland again took us through the entire trajectory of the House of Hardy, as a lot of journalists will simply start with his collection for Princess Elizabeth’s 1950 tour of Canada. (Not that I’m not excited to read about that collection in particular, but again, it is only part of the story!)

Rowland does not shy away from Amies’ personal life, either. Historically, many homosexual designers would understandably keep their private lives very private, as there were still laws at the time making same sex relationships a crime. However, she explores Amies’ relationship with Ken Fleetwood in depth; this relationship would last until Fleetwood’s death in the 1990s.

All in all, this is a fantastic biography on a lesser-discussed royal couturier! `

NetGalley, Jessica Storoschuk

As mentioned in

House & Homes

This biography explores the life of Sir Hardy Amies—a World War II intelligence officer and a prominent British fashion designer. Amies navigated societal challenges as a gay man courageously contributing to the war effort at a time when his sexuality was illegal. After the war, his elite couture business and cultured, charismatic presence earned him fame, with clients from film stars to Queen Elizabeth II herself.

Amies led a long, interesting, and varied life. This biography does a good job of sharing his story with readers in an engaging and compassionate way.

NetGalley, Andrea Romance

Featured in 'Books for Christmas'

Cotswold Life

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Very interesting read. He came from humble beginnings to dressing the queen. Loved reading about the restrictions on dressing royalty.

NetGalley, teresa tipton

The name of Sir Hardy Amies is well known in connection with the late Queen Elizabeth: he was one of her couturiers.

But there was a lot more to him than fashion. He was an intelligence officer during the Second World War and his work for the Belgian resistance effort. as part of the Special Operations Executive, was so significant that he was awarded l’Ordre de la Couronne, or Order of the Crown, by the Belgian Government in 1948.

Not only did Sir Hardy conduct these operations, but he also simultaneously developed his burgeoning fashion business through the British Board of Trade’s drive to promote UK manufacturing throughout the conflict.

He was a man who at once epitomised and challenged the reality of being homosexual in an era when society was deeply unaccepting. He was thrust into what was an overtly macho and potentially hostile environment and, against that backdrop, made a valuable and courageous contribution to the war effort.

The Queen was obviously aware of his proclivities: when she knighted him, he said he expected he was the first queen she had honoured, and she laughed.

A well researched and fascinating account of an enigmatic man.

NetGalley, Gail Hanlon

Sir Hardy Amies was certainly an amazing man. This is an enjoyable, thoroughly researched and well-written biography of the famous designer who was actually the head of the Belgian section of the SOE. I found this part of the book the most interesting, especially Amies’s being haunted by what happened to some of his operatives.

I also liked reading about his friendships with famous people, especially the Queen, the descriptions of his beautiful clothes and his love of Australia.

NetGalley, Lisa Sanderson

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Hard to review but I loved reading it. Hardy Amies had one amazing life. He was involved in the Second World War and then did haute couture for the wealthy and helped dress the Queen etc. The parts of how to dress royalty and the restrictions etc were really good.. He was gay in time when you could not be. That in its self makes part of the read. When you think of the era we live. I loved hearing about fashion brands and how they started. A very interesting read.

NetGalley, Rosamond Carling

About Ms Lynda Rowland

Lynda Rowland is a freelance writer who began her career as a journalist on local newspapers in South West London, where she reported on entertainment, women’s issues, lifestyle and current affairs. She currently concentrates on fashion, particularly sustainability, the ethical clothing industry and vintage style. She has a great interest in art, crafts and twentieth century popular culture, and is an avid collector of fashion books, memorabilia and vintage clothing.

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