Orders, Decorations, Medals and Militaria (13 January 2021)
Date of Auction: 13th January 2021
Sold for £460
Estimate: £400 - £500
Royal Warrant Holders Association Medal, E.II.R., 1977 Silver Jubilee Medal (Hardy Amies) nearly extremely fine £400-£500
FootnoteEdwin Hardy Amies was born on 17 July 1909 at Maida Vale, London and was educated at Latymer Upper School and Brentwood. It was suggested that he should work for a scholarship to Cambridge, but Amies wanted to become a journalist. His father arranged a meeting with R. D. Blumenfeld, the editor of the Daily Express, who told him: ‘We don’t want academics in the journalistic world. We want men of international culture. Send him abroad to learn French and German. Make him work.’ After spending three years in France and Germany - learning the languages and working for a customs agent, an English School and a wall tile factory - Amies returned to England and became a weighing-machine salesman for W & T Avery.
It was his mother’s contacts in the fashion world together with his own facility with the written word that secured him his first job in fashion. His vivid description of a dress, written in a letter to a retired French fitter and brought to the attention of the owner of the Mayfair couture house Lachasse, made a strong impression. The wearer of the dress was the owner’s wife. In early 1934, with no previous experience, he succeeded the designer manager, Digby Morton, who had left Lachasse to set up his own house. By the time war intervened, he was designing the whole collection.
At the outbreak of the Second World War, with his language experience, Amies was called to serve in the Special Operations Executive. He was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant from Officer Cadet Training Company on to the British Army General List on 18 May 1940, and was transferred from the General List to the Intelligence Corps on 15 July 1940. Amies suspected that S.O.E.’s commander Major General Colin Gubbins did not regard a dressmaker as suitable military material; but his training report stated: ‘This officer is far tougher both physically and mentally than his rather precious appearance would suggest. He possesses a keen brain and an abundance of shrewd sense. His only handicap is his precious appearance and manner, and these are tending to decrease’.
Posted to Belgium, Amies worked with the various Belgian resistance groups and adapted names of fashion accessories for use as code words, while he organised sabotage assignments and arranged for agents to be parachuted with radio equipment behind enemy lines, into the Ardennes. Amies rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel, but outraged his superiors in 1944 by engaging famed photographer Lee Miller and setting up a Vogue photo shoot in Belgium after D-Day. In 1946, he was created an Officer of the Belgian Order of the Crown on 17 September 1948 by the prince regent of Belgium.
Amies was an integral part of Operation Ratweek, an assassination project developed by the S.O.E. to eliminate double agents and Nazi sympathisers in Belgium. In 2000, a BBC 2 documentary entitled Secret Agent named Amies as one of the men who helped to plan the killing of dozens of Nazi collaborators, but Amies disclaimed all knowledge of the matter.
Hardy Amies was quirky, yet conservative; for example, having his British Army uniform tailored on Savile Row. Years later, Hardy recalled that Kim Philby was in his mess; and, on being asked what the infamous spy was like, Hardy quipped, ‘He was always trying to get information out of me, most significantly the name of my tailor.’ On demobilisation, Amies bought the lease of a house in Savile Row, built by Lord Burlington in 1735 and damaged in the Blitz, and set up his own business.
It was not long before he was designing clothes for Princess Elizabeth. ‘A very grand lady asked me to make coats and skirts for what she called her “gels”’, he recalled, ‘and they turned out to be ladies-in-waiting to Princess Elizabeth. The Princess saw them and asked me to make clothes for her visit to Canada in 1948.’ His royal warrant dated from her accession to the throne. The Queen wore a Hardy Amies pink silk dress and coat for the Silver Jubilee and a Hardy Amies yellow coat on her 60th birthday.
In 1950, recognising a need for cheaper, instantly available clothes, Amies expanded his business by opening a ready-to-wear boutique. He designed uniforms for the police, British Airways, the South African defence force, male nurses at Broadmoor and the staffs of W H Smith, the London Hilton, and Wall’s ice-cream. In 1967, he was commissioned by director Stanley Kubrick to design the costumes for 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).
In 1973 Amies sold his business to Debenhams, with a view to further expansion, but in 1980 bought it back with the profits of his success with menswear in Canada, Australia, Japan, America and New Zealand (where, he estimated in 1979, 55 per cent of men wore suits in whose design he had a hand). Eventually, he had more than 40 overseas licensees.
Handsome, with aquiline features and a full head of hair, Amies was proud of his athletic figure and played tennis well into his eighties. His other principal love was gardening, and he built from scratch an elaborate traditional garden. Hardy Amies was appointed CVO in 1977 and KCVO in 1989. In 2000, Amies sold the house to the Luxury Brands Group and announced his formal retirement. He died at home in 2003, aged 93, and is buried in the village churchyard at Langford, Oxfordshire.