I know that many admire her forthright approach, but personally I can’t stand Mary Portas. Everything about her, from her haircut to her cuffs to her manner, is too pointy and scary, though I sense this is deliberate. She’s one of those people who see honesty as some great virtue – the kind who’d rather leave you sobbing in a corner than pretend, just for niceties’ sake, that they thought you were something other than a total twonk.
I fucking hate people like that. I was once shortlisted for a writing prize (I know, I know. How? Etc.) Anyway, one of the judges was Lionel Shriver, who is (was) a hero of mine. The ceremony, full of smart literary types, made me feel awkward and nervous. There was a lot of champagne floating about, so I downed about three buckets of the stuff before staggering over to thank her for putting me through.
‘Which story was yours again?’
Instead of saying something bland and encouraging before extricating herself, she made this little face, as if she was holding back puke, before saying, ‘Yeeeeeeeeeeessss… I think I voted for that one,’ therefore making it unequivocally clear she didn’t.
I mean, why be such a bitch? I was left feeling doubly gutted (because I then lost) – and for what? So she could feel the smug glow of the pathologically honest. Anyway, that’s why I hate Mary Portas. Because she’s like Lionel Shriver. Hmmm.
But I’ve been seeing mention of Portas because she has a new clothing range out tomorrow, aimed at the over-40s. This is the demographic sorely underserved on the High Street, or so everybody keeps saying, even though forty-pluses can go to Whistles, Toast, Agnès b or about a million other shops and come out not looking like a dog’s dinner. (Actually, my tip would be all those Danish brands – by Malene Birger, Rutzou and that sort of thing.)
So far I’ve seen nothing of Portas’s collection for House of Fraser, except for what she wore in the photograph accompanying an Observer interview. This was a pair of four-inch stilettos (is that really what the over-40s have been gagging for?), some tight coral trousers (quite nice, actually, but not desperately forgiving of middle-aged thighs) and a tailored grey shirt of the kind you can probably already find in Theory or Joseph.
But, unlike those shops, the House of Fraser concession will boast lots of extras you don’t expect, such as bellboys and a moan phone, where you can air any grievances. The bellboys in particular strike me as a terrible idea, as most women I know want less attention when they go shopping, not more, since more assistants = more people to bully you into spending money. I know women (myself included) who avoid shopping in boutiques altogether because the friendlier the owner, the more they feel pressured into buying stuff. The appeal of the department store is its anonymity.
Stuff phones and bellboys – my suggestions for a happy shopping experience are simple: Not too many stairs (men always get the ground floor by the entrance, while women have to traipse two miles into the bowels of the building to find their rails); a good three-way mirror offering arse-view as well as front-on, and an atmosphere that’s not too dark, loud or alienating (Abercrombie & Fitch, I’m talking to you.) And that’s about it. There – easy. Somebody give me a job shouting at shopkeepers.
Mary Portas’s collection is available online here.