Pret a Portas
Published 10/03/2013 | 05:00
Straight-talking, no-nonsense Mary Portas has carved out a career as a feisty advocate of higher standards in retail. Through her TV show and newspaper column, shopping tsar Mary has become a thorn in the side of retailers as she identifies flaws in product offers, merchandising and customer service.
So what happens now that she has vaulted the counter and is on the other side of the till with her Mary & House of Fraser fashion range?
This is Mary's fourth collection for the high-street store, which we saw conceived and born in the TV series, 'Mary Queen of Frocks', but this month is the first time the full collection is being offered for sale at House of Fraser in Dundrum Town Centre, Dublin.
Irish fans have previously gone to Belfast or online to buy it. However, the complete collection lands in Dublin next week and will include dresses and separates. And Mary being Mary, they will naturally accessorise with the shoe range she designs for Clarks.
So what's different about this titian-haired businesswoman who was voted the sixth most powerful female in fashion by fashion bible Drapers in 2011?
Portas (52) has taken on the mantle of the campaigner who wants "to take fashion power back for the grown-up woman" who has been largely ignored on the high street, in sizes and styling options.
In keeping with her philosophy of making older women feel good about themselves, she looks to tricks that others might not notice while adhering to her fashion commandments, like ankle-grazing cigarette-end white jeans that showcase the narrowest part of your body.
Here are some of Mary's fashion commandments.
• Don't dress like a teenager.
• Don't jump on every trend. Edit your trends. If it's not right for you, don't do it.
• Don't buy cheap. Once you pass 40, be really careful what you put on your body – it's all about the fit.
• Work with your proportions. Really good tailoring and great clothes highlight your shape, which is important.
• Don't jump on any of the retro trends; you've probably done them already.
• Don't look at size – look at what fits the body. Don't become obsessed with what size you are; see how it fits on the body.
• If worried about colour, Mary recommends using it as a highlight.
• If you feel lumpy, wear things that highlight your thinnest parts like your ankles, great decolletage, waist...
Each season Mary introduces a 'no-brainer' piece to her collection which you can wear with or without a belt. Either way, the length and dimensions are very sexy and the cut of the shift is very modern.
"I call them no-brainers because when you get out of bed in the morning, you don't even want to think about what to wear.
"You see women who have overworked their looks or have thought about it too much and it is too co-ordinated. I love the idea that you can dress in 10 minutes without having to think about it."
A new mother, second time around (her civil partner Melanie Rickey gave birth to their son Horatio last September), Mary Portas celebrates Mother's Day this weekend with a Spring/Summer 2013 collection that "has a fashion-now punch, without a single mutton-dressed-as-lamb-moment".
My favourite item – and Mary's too – is the fluid 'no-brainer' dress in a punchy marigold yellow, the kind of colour you can wear without looking ill.
Mary knows her woman – and her woman's body issues – only too well.
The structure is key, the ruching is soft but with the power to rehabilitate tummy concerns.
The fabric is dense so you can't see underwear. There is a subtle half-cap sleeve to take the naked look off you and the gently draped neckline is flattering.
Of course Mary's Armery sleeves (made by Charnos) pull on easily and turn a sleeveless dress into a year-round staple.
They put her on the fashion map in Ireland when they went on sale at House of Fraser in Dundrum Town Centre.
In her latest collection, there are sleeves on most pieces, from the 'Silk Wedge' shirt dress to her 'Landscape Tree' print dress with elegant batwing sleeves and a boat neckline.
An oversized peasant shirt in coral has a half-sleeve, while the floral print shirt with big blousy swirling blossoms is a favourite of Mary's partner, fashion journalist Rickey.
One of the top tweeters in the UK, Portas drives her Yellow-hammer PR company and is revered for her entrepreneurial concepts. So what does she wish she'd brought to the retail market?
She pauses for a second before listing the J brand 'Houlihan' jeans – "great trousers" – followed by the Prada shoes which fused trainers with fashion.
(Turn to page 28 to read about our 11-year-old Co Monaghan fashionista with an idea for striped Prada trainer wedges.)
Given the way she campaigns for grown woman, I'm not surprised to hear that Mary's next project is to produce shapewear that looks good and is comfortable to wear. We shall wait with bated breath.