Last Post for an Era of Elegance; Life&Style

Article excerpt

Byline: ROY STRONG

Royal couturier Hardy Amies died this week, aged 93. A close friend pays tribute by Sir Roy Strong

WITH the passing of Hardy Amies we witness the end of an era.

He was the grand old man of British couture, the man who dressed the Queen superbly well for half a century in clothes which were comfortable, practical and to be seen a mile off.

If only governments had been behind fashion in this country - as they always have been in France - during the post-war years, the story of that industry would have been very different.

Hardy epitomised the standards of a vanished generation, ones which believed in hard work, exact attention to detail and the observation of the niceties of social life. He was the epitome of a certain type of Englishness whose essence was restraint mingled with splendour.

The sort of woman he adored was aristocratic, at home in tweeds at a shoot, and spectacular at a grand fIte in ball gown and tiara. But my own memories of Hardy are more as a friend who will be greatly missed.

I first met Hardy in 1970 at the great Field of Cloth of Gold Ball at Christie's, attired appropriately as the dandy king, Richard II, and he crossed my life again the following year at a party at Buckingham Palace, where he remarked that this was the first occasion he had ever got into the place through the front door.

That kind of droll witticism was typical of his approach to life.

He was to cross mine on and and off for the next 30 years, not only because he was part of the beau monde into which I was swept for a period, but also because we shared a network of friends. He could be a generous one, albeit spiky. I recall vividly how one day the phone rang and there he was: "I've just finished [Strong's] The Story of Britain and I'm just ringing to tell you how marvellous it is."

He was incredibly well read.

That was Hardy's upside, but none of us was spared the down.

My wife was ticked off for decking Samuel Pepys's house with dried hydrangeas - "They didn't arrive till the 18th century" - and me for our garden: "Mr Pooter goes to Versailles" as he cruelly, if wittily, lampooned it.

But who cares, for we loved him dearly. When the author David Verey died he rang his widow Rosemary, the distinguished garden writer, every day from wherever he was in the world for a year. That was true friendship which offset his difficult side.

He was a stickler for what he considered correct dress. One of the last occasions we met him was at a lunch party in the Cotswolds. He had a good-looking Australian in tow who had initially dressed in elegant casual clothes for the event until Hardy forced him to put on collar and tie and jacket, as no gentleman should ever be seen at luncheon in the country attired in any other way. …