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 epitomized 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-traveled and spoke three languages, and his story encapsulates the extraordinary cultural and societal turbulence of the twentieth century.