WHEN word got out that fashion force Mary Portas and Clarks were taking their powerful bond to the next level, their collaboration promised to be one unmissable shoe collection in the making. Last Thursday, the limited edition collection was launched in all its glory. Without a doubt, we haven’t been let down.
The Mary & Clarks collection was launched at Clarks on 260 Oxford Street. The street, as always the bustling epicenter of London, was even more packed on this night, when dozens of admirers, press and shoe-hunters have gathered in the shop, all in eager anticipation of Ms. Portas herself. She enters Clarks with a va-va-voom attitude; she is unmissable. While cameras are flashing in her face and while security is trying to keep overly enthusiastic women at a safe distance, Portas struts around the shop to hand out style advice, whether it’s appreciated or not.
"That is something that British women get wrong, when they reach a certain age, they worry about being given up, so they wear a bright colour or an embellishment, which quickly gets too much.
It might come as a surprise to many that Mary Portas, whose name is synonymous with retail expertise, but not necessarily with designing, is the creative brain behind the venture with Clarks. However, judging from the first week going, which saw a soaring sale of 2,000 pairs, the shoe collection seems to underline Portas’ unique foresight in retail trends and consumer desires.
Portas’ latest retail adventure is, according to her, not about designing. Boldly stated, she simply got bored of trying to find designer-style clothing for the 40-something woman on the high street – clothes and shoes that are really well made, but have a reasonable price tag. “Designing this shoe collection is about one thing, about creating a concept for women. My whole vision was this: I turned 50 this year, and thought, where is it, where would I go for simple chic yet affordable clothes, if I don’t want to pay designer? There simply isn’t such a store.”
The enormous niche in the market for age-appropriate fashion without the designer price tag, has been fiddling in the back of Portas’ head for the past three years. Initially she played around with the idea of opening up her own shop, where, behind the scenes, she could be in charge of stockings. However, she soon realised that there was simply no one doing this kind of fashion, and consequently, that there wouldn’t be anything to stock.
At that point Portas got on the phone to Clarks, who she had been working with for years, and asked them if they would be interested in working as an ensemble on a shoe collection, designed in its whole to cater for the need of sustainable fashion for blooming ladies, while diving into a grand marketing opportunity. Clarks, of course, said yes and “weeks later”, Portas recalls, “we formed a design team and before I knew it, we were on this bloody roll. It’s been phenomenal!”
“Working on the forefront of fashion was absolutely nerve wrecking! Seriously. What if people don’t like what I have to show them? And don’t forget, I’m normally the one that tells people what to do with their businesses, I’ve written about it and I’ve criticised everyone, so working from this side of the industry is pretty daring in that sense. I’ve questioned myself, can I do this? But, it’s been phenomenal.”
Indeed, the end result of Portas’ quest for high-end fashion with a high street price tag is quite sensational. The limited edition collection consists of 25 lines across nine styles, including evening sandals, rebellious ankle boots, platforms and knee-high boots. The collection caters truly for every aspect of a woman’s life, whether it concerns the nine to five office worker, the mum carrying three small kids on her neck, the recently-graduated or the recently-retired.
All shoes are named after famous – and slightly mad – Marys. There is La Antoinette, a leopard print ankle boot, sporting a miniscule stiletto, La Magdalene, an evening sandal with colour blocking pink and orange, and there is La Stuart, a beautifully cut boot, designed to enhance the calves.
Portas’ personal favourite is the little snakeskin ankle boot with the wedge – unsurprisingly called La Portas. “I think it’s the little ankle boot, because it’s so me. I love that one, because, to me, you can wear it out with a dress, or wear it with tight trousers or jeans; however you wear it, it just instantly does its job and makes you feel effortlessly stylish.”
As a final piece of advice, Portas comments on her own vision of style, on which she has based the Mary & Clarks collection, “My myth, my idea of style, is simple chic with an edge. Personally, I do that in anything I wear and in anything I design. It’s not about ‘boom, here you have a big statement’ or about embellishments. That is something that British women get wrong, when they reach a certain age, they worry about being given up, so they wear a bright colour or an embellishment, which quickly gets too much. That is wrong. It’s about simple chic with and edge.”
Available from Clarks stores nationwide and Clarks.co.uk
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