Friday, 2 September 2011

Mary Portas' Magnificent Retail Moment

[All images my own, taken for illustrative purposes. Please ask before reproducing].
If you know a bit about the retail industry, or you enjoy British tv documentaries exploring it, you'll probably be familiar with Mary Portas. If not, where have you been? The woman credited with transforming major department stores in her career history, before publicly reviving small businesses and changing the way we think about charity shops, is back. Her newest venture is a concession inside the Oxford Street branch of House of Fraser, where 'Mary by Mary Portas' has been lovingly created, complete with Mary-style wigs on the mannequins. I couldn't wait to see the full result.

Look who I found! Having just finished filming a segment for her upcoming show, Mary Queen of Frocks (to be seen on Channel 4 this Autumn), Ms. Portas was hanging out with her staff when I arrived with my mum in tow, who promptly asked the First Lady of Retail, "You're not on the till, are you, Mary?!". We had a brief chat with her and she said that her high shoes meant she couldn't do too much floor work, but that it was going well. It was great to see that she is so hands-on with the brand and is not just controlling it from a distance. She also made a point of saying goodbye to her film crew - no luvvie behaviour here. I couldn't resist sneaking a photo of her as she left.

Collaborating with several well-known names in the world of clothing, Mary has used her own ideas and the expertise of people who really know their stuff. Here you can see the array of Charnos tights, displayed simply but effectively on a series of crossed mannequin legs. Prices started at £9.50.

Another mannequin enjoys some acrobatics.

'Armery' is the brainchild of Portas and Charnos, and it aims to do for bingo wings what Spanx has done for thighs and stomachs. These little sleeves are lightweight and not as restrictive as Spanx (which is fortunate, as you probably will need to move your arms at some point), but with enough support to make everything a little more slimline. I really like the lace versions, which make the Armery a feature in itself.

The no-frills layout of much of the store means that everything is accessible and straightforward.

This tunic dress would look fantastic on a curvy girl - it skims over the body but doesn't hide you away. The pattern is fashion-conscious but it's not the kind of piece that would be a one-season affair. You could still be wearing it years later.

All things bright and beautiful... and I love this contrast detail chiffon shirt. You can get similar ones (mainly in black and cream) from Topshop or New Look. As seen here, it looks great next to khaki.

Mary's 'Moan Phone' is fairly self-explanatory. Genuinely concerned about what the customer thinks, she has installed this so that people can leave a message on an answering machine if there's anything they aren't satisfied with. I didn't call, but if I had then my moan would have centred around the footwear (in collaboration with Clarks). I had my eye on a few pairs but couldn't find any prices. I didn't like to ask the shop assistant as she was busy with a customer, but it would have helped to have the price displayed on or near each type of shoe.

This shaggy trimmed coat is a good winter basic. The idea behind each piece on sale is to give people a quality product that means they don't need to keep buying everything new for each season - just a few extras that take your fancy. So this coat will be a darn sight more expensive than H&M, but it should have longevity.

My mum and I fell in love with this winter jacket. In navy wool with leather edges, it's classic but edgy - it ticks the androgynous box for AW/11 but it could easily be used to offset a girly look or to wrap over a shift dress. At £400 it's not cheap, but it's definitely on my lust list.

And finally, my top pick from the collection was this gorgeous asymmetric dress (very Vivienne Westwood Anglomania). It's tailored but forgiving, and it's made from a soft but sturdy black sheath of fabric. You could wear it to the office, to a restaurant or on one of those days where you feel as though you have nothing to wear. Just pop it on with some bright opaque tights and ankle boots, shove a beanie hat on and you're all set.

In conclusion, Mary by Mary Portas is a range that will go down well with the British public, though it's not exactly surprising that the retail guru knew exactly what we wanted - er, it's her job. It was refreshing to see all price ranges reflected, as it can be incredibly irritating to walk into a shop whose aesthetics you love, but not be able to afford a coathanger, let alone the item that's on it. I would have liked to see some cheaper dresses and jackets, but I also understand that you do need to pay for quality and craftsmanship. However, maybe a compromise could be reached with some thin cotton or chiffon, rather than the more expensive fabrics used?

I loved seeing this store, which also houses a select range of food, stationery and homeware to pick up alongside the clothing. It really is a brand to watch, and Mary should be proud of her achievements.


  1. I'm in love with that black fur-lined coat, gorgeous.


  2. It is very cool - I was really impressed with the collection. Check it out if you get the chance!

    Polly x


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...