Yesterday we went along to House of Fraser on Oxford Street to see the eagerly anticipated collection for the over 40’s by Mary Portas. Was this going to be the answer to our fashion dreams, were we going to have a small panic attic on entering the shop (like we did the first time we visited COS) running around not knowing what to buy first?
Not quite, but we did like it – despite the fact a very small part of us didn’t really want to!! We had seen a press view of the collection a few months ago and were quite honestly disappointed, the quality wasn’t great, the range didn’t hang together as a collection and there was no ‘wow’ factor. I am not a fan of a celebrity range and despite the fact Mary has many years experience in the fashion industry, she is still not a designer and lets face wouldn’t have had the opportunity to do this had she not been on TV!
What Mary is good at however, is creating a concept and an amazing shopping experience, and she has certainly done this with her own shop. Retailers take note – the shopping environment and the staff matter to us older women, we are the type of customers who run our fingers along the shelves to find dust and tell the shop assistants off for chatting and ignoring us (much to our teenagers disgust!).
Mary started her career in windows and she knows how to hook us in with a visual display, and the bold neon sign claiming ‘For women not girls’, immediately had us interested. An express lift with a bell boy, the Mary logo and an orange door (we sensed a theme here) took us straight up to the third floor, where we were greeted by enthusiastic staff – good start.
A huge Mary Manifesto on the wall told us ‘this is not an age thing, it’s a grown up thing, you want your clothes to do justice to the life you lead, this not safe it’s adventurous and (apparently she does this) ready in 10 minutes & looking hot!’ So far so good, we believe in all of that – although we are not sure looking hot is still on our list – but perhaps it should be!
The space is a little like a mini department store with the main collection in the front of the shop, homeware to the side and accessories at the back. It has a light airy feel, with lots of space to move around and the clothes are displayed on simple mannequins wearing orange bobs. The orange theme continued into the shoes boxes, which are Hermes orange and make a huge statement, displayed across a whole wall. There are nice little touches like adjustable mood lighting and bell to call an assistant in the changing room, a VIP styling room, free coffee and a moan phone to make complaints.
Enough of the shop fit, what did we think of the clothes? Well for a start they seemed much better quality than we had seen at the press day, and the range seemed to work together as a collection when displayed in the right environment. We loved the dresses, particularly the simple silk shapes in bold prints, which retail at £200. They looked very short on Mary and the mannequins, but in real life, they were just right, either on the knee or just above. Shapes had been carefully considered and were without a doubt influenced by Mary’s own wardrobe, but a word of warning – the dress styling seemed to be either body hugging or over size and those oversize shapes look great on tall thin women, but us shorter rounder gals can look like a sack of potatoes. Personally I’d like to see a few more well cut, slim, but not fitted shapes (COS are experts at these).
Mary has been clever and collaborated with well established, quality brands such as Clarks on the footwear, Radley for bags and Charnos tights and these looked very strong. Amanda loved the jewellery designed by Monica Vinader and I loved the patent Mary Jane shoes.
We also had some of our own secret shoppers visiting and their comments included “love the stretch skinny jeans, in lovely soft fabric”, “the staff are fantastic”, and “not sure about £95 for a polyester version of an Equipments shirt.” Overall everyone we spoke to – and a lot of them are in the fashion industry, so not your average customer – were quietly impressed.
Did we buy anything? No not yet, old bags that we are, we thought we would go back in a few weeks time, when Mary hasn’t personally merchandised the store and the second hit lands. Amanda is going to buy the Armery (part armour, part hosiery that hug your arms) and let you know what she thinks. They weren’t yet available in the shop, but apparently they are the answer answer to all our arm problems!
While we didn’t feel Mary’s range is the answer to all our shopping needs, we think it fills an important gap in the market for some fortysomething shoppers. And here is the key thing, just like teenagers, twenty and thirty somethings, we older women do not fit just one customer profile, some of us are fashion forward, some are conservative and some are a bit of both.
We were chatting to a large retailer about this subject only this week and explained how we felt some brands just didn’t get this. They lump us all together and design a generic ‘older’ range for the 40 plus market. Wake up people, we are living till we are 80 and longer these days, that is a lot of customer profiles.
So the Mary Portas range is filling a gap in the market, for sure and we think it will do very well, but there are lots of other gaps still to fill! Retailers we need to see more.