Thursday, 18 August 2011
Where I meet Mary Portas, again...
'Why is it the minute you reach 40, it's all piped music and James Blunt?' Mary Portas asks me (yes, really!) on a tour of her new shop, 'This is about spirit, it's about creating an exciting environment. It's more than just clothes.' The retail guru, with 30 years industry experience, is fed up with what's on offer on the high street for women of a certain vintage and opens her own shop Mary & House of Fraser today. This is a store-within-a-store for 'grown-up style conscious women' and That's Not My Age was invited along yesterday for an exclusive preview and a chance to chat with the government's high street tsar. I know, beyond exciting. And this time I did manage to string a sentence together without sounding like a complete social misfit. Though the Channel 4 cutting room floor may tell a very different story - the entire event is being filmed for a new series Mary Queen of Frocks.
Anyhow before I go on, grown-up style conscious women everywhere, please take note of the Pret a Portas checklist:
1. Avoid dressing like a teenager.
2. Edit your trends.
3. Work with your proportions.
4. Keep it low maintenance.
5. Don't buy crap!
Makes sense. Though the Mary Manifesto, 'Ready in 10 minutes and looking hot,' may not quite be the statement that menopausal customers want to make.
So the boutique has a New York-y feel, there's a hint of the Anthopologie lifestyle thing going on - and quite a lot of orange. This is not just about fashion, there are beauty products, interiors and second-hand books donated by Mary's Living & Giving shops, with proceeds going to Save the Children. Plus, food and coffee. Coffee, red wine and olive oil are Old Best Friend Mary Portas's (OBFMP) favourite things. ' I'm not a workaholic,' she announces, ' There are so many things I want to do but I like to take the weekends off. I relax by running, going to yoga, gardening and drinking a lot of red wine.' Sounds just like a typical TNMA weekend, minus the physical activity.
There were boxes and builders all over the shop yesterday, Mary & House of Fraser was still very much a work-in-progress. The mannequins weren't quite ready.
The collection is a combination of grown-up labels such as MaxMara, who as Melanie Rickey points out, 'Make the best camel coats ever,' Whistles (in fact, this editing of brands is a little bit Lucille Lewin) and Day Birger et Mikkelsen:
And then there's Mary's own label, which makes up around 40% of the offer. Here are collaborations with some great traditional English brands: Clarks shoes (the boots above are one of my favourite styles), Monica Vinader jewellery and Charnos hosiery - whose Armery (supportwear for arms), is pure genius. As we all know, 'a wobbly upper arm is the scourge of the fashionable woman.' How long before we see Helen Mirren wearing one of these?
All available to buy online soon, though at OBFMP states, ' Online can never be as exciting as great retail.' When I ask about design input, Portas replies, ' Me and Mel went through everything we love in the wardrobe. Clothes I'd had for years, just great pieces, nothing trend-led and then called on Antonio Berardi to take a look.' Whether this is the Roland Mouret/Victoria Beckham kind of look, who knows? But the result, on the whole, is a collection of good quality, wardrobe basics - like the No-Brainer Dress, which comes in a variety of prints:
That's Not My Age loves the fact that forty-something model Cecilia Chancellor stars in the promotional campaign:
One of my favourite things is the Moan Phone. Any customer complaints are directed to an answer machine and will be dealt with personally by Portas, who promises to get back to shoppers herself, once a week.
What are you going to do if you get a message saying, ' Your clothes are designed for tall slim, Portas-shaped women. I'm 5' 2 and size 18 and nothing suits me?' I ask. ' Why look at problems?' replies OBFMP, 'Retailers don't do that when they design for younger women - and we have the standard size range here. I wanted to create great fashion, a brilliant collection with a focus on quality, fit and style.' Ahem. I did want to ask why the Queen of Shops, champion of the independent retailer had opted for a department store rather than going it alone, but bottled that one and asked about the future instead. Will the Mary Portas shop be rolled out across the country? ' I'd love to see this in another 10 cities but it has to be like this - not a rail of clothes and a picture of me!'
That's Not My Age Verdict: The median age of women in the UK was 41-years-old in 2010 and so a collection for this demographic is a No-Brainer. And OBFMP says she is not in this for the money and genuinely seems to care about the issue. So, maximum respect. This is Portastic if you're tired of trawling the high street/internet for dresses with sleeves, or want a one-stop-shop and a coffee. I know that being 5' 10 and size 12, I could get away with most of these styles - and that some of the stuff that looks fabulous on telly, on Mary Portas, may not be to everyone's liking. In which case, may I point you in the direction of Cos.
Mary Portas photo: The Guardian