What happened when we met MARY PORTAS?

18 August 2011

Although of course we’re usually far too busy being fashionable every evening and dropping in on champagne receptions to catch much TV, we absolutely LOVE watching Mary Portas’s shows. We wondered if we went to meet her to discuss her latest venture – a fully branded Mary Portas cult, err, we mean SHOP on the 3rd floor of London’s Oxford St House of Fraser she might shake her famous bob, waggle her finger at us and tell us something ‘like it is’. Well. This is what happened.

A tour of the shop begins in the lift which have been re-upholstered in bright orange and are manned by purple-trousered bell boys, like Buttons out of Cinderella. Then, an army of ginger bewigged mannequins and a flashing neon MARY sign alert you to the entrance.

The philosophy of the shop is that there is no older equivalent of really trendy shops for young people on the High St, so when you outgrow the cheaper, fast fashion shops, you can only really go somewhere frumpy, or to Bond Street to spend a squillion pounds on one tiny blouse.

Therefore, Mary has teamed up with House of Fraser; which means the whole thing can be instantly rolled out nationwide, to save an army of women from the twin perils of middle aged frumpiness or dreaded mutton syndrome. The muse for this collection? Mary herself of course. There are skinny jeans and leather leggings, silky blouses, an animal print shift in bright jewel shades and the most forgiving (but still cool) jersey jumper dress to be worn with Mary’s own brand of tights (developed with Charnos) and Mary’s extra special comfy heels (made by Clarks, with extra cushioning in the sole) and Mary's dazzling costume jewellery (Monica Vinader has even got involved, as she’s a friend too).

Best of all, the cut and fit of the womenswear is destined to be brilliant because they were developed with (another friend and the designer of Mary’s wedding outfit) Antonio Berardi. But what about Mary herself? What did she have to say?

Hello Mary! How are you? Are you pleased with the shop?

Hello! Yes I am but phew! So many women keep coming up to me and wanting to tell me stuff! [this is absolutely true. Shoppers keep swarming around to chat to Mary and pay her compliments]

What sort of stuff? Like their life story?

Yes! There are just a lot of people who really want to tell me about their fashion needs!

So tell us about the collection . . . you really spotted a gap in the market for clothes for older women?

Yes. The thing is, it’s not so much older women, it’s just women in general. Womens bodies. They need clothes that fit them and that aren’t based on a passing trend that doesn’t suit anyone. We’ve created a silhouette that makes you look great and feel glam, but that you can go to work in, run around in, and that is comfortable.

What was the muse for this particular collection? There are a lot of bright jewel colours, a lot of gold, and it’s slightly Sixties? Would you agree?

No! it’s none of that! You know I don’t do trends you silly! This is absolutely not about trends. It’s about fabulous clothes that work for you, not trends ‘coz you can get that anywhere else.

Rather marvellously, the shop includes food (!) and homeware - like these dog cushions by Carol Avandye for £50

And what is your personal favourite item in here?

Oooh! This dress – [a purple shift dress that’s more fitted around the legs but batwing on top] It’s absolutely brilliant, it comes in black as well - it’ll go with anything, bright tights, other tops, you can pull it down, or hoik it up like this – shove it in the washing machine, there’s not one shape of woman who couldn’t pull this off; tall, short, bigger – anyone! [absolutely beaming]

Thank you Mary! You’re certainly a good ambassador for it, and clearly practise what you preach!

Our verdict – We like rather like it – although we think it does look better on Mary than it will on some of the House of Fraser shoppers. She might champion the older woman but she is tall and very slim with a cracking haircut and people should beware of copying too much of Mary’s style if they don’t have these attributes. The block colour dresses and the leather bits look fantastic, although they are pricey. One wool and leather coat was £440 and a leather and lycra Rick Owens-ish jacket by Designers Remix was over £500.

If you are on the plus size there will be bits here for you, but more so if you are top-heavy. If you are pear-shaped you could wear one of the coats or the black maxi dress but not much else would be worth the visit, although there's a lot of stretchy lycra and things come in sizes 8-18.

- Naomi Attwood 


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