While I am a massive fan of vintage clothing, and love to big-up independent businesses, I’ve always thought our Great British High Street is something well worth celebrating too – especially those businesses with a longstanding heritage of quality craftsmanship and timeless design. In fact, it was one of the first things I blogged about nearly six years ago (how did that happen?!). So the idea of browsing the archives of a Great British Brand – which I was lucky enough to do at Laura Ashley HQ, a couple of Summers ago – is like heaven to me. What I love about old clothes is the stories they tell, and archives distill the narrative of a company and the people who have woven its tale across the years, a unique blend of cuts, fabric and styles – whether transcending trends or making them.
In an era where we’re embracing new old things, some companies have cleverly been tapping into this archive potential – Laura Ashley did a special collection a few years ago and, perhaps more importantly, every collection they make involves careful consultation of the archive. You well know from my vintage outfit posts that Laura Ashley and St. Michael are for me the Holy Grail of thrift in terms of quality, longevity and gorgeous design and it had occurred to me on more than one occasion that M&S should tap into their own archive more. Some of the pieces would barely even need tweaked for modern-day wear: when asked where my retro St. Michael finds are from, people are often surprised when I say they’re vintage – a testament to their timelessness if you ask me.
So when I first had an email about the Archive by Alexa collection, I felt serious pangs of jealousy – what I would give to browse those rails of fashion history! I wish it was simply ‘Archive by M&S’, but I understand why they put Alexa’s name to it – she is one stylish lady, though for me a little over-exposed. Not all of the pieces are ‘me’; the line from the release, ‘Bringing archive pieces back to life for 2016 using Alexa’s unique approach to style’, seemed to translate as ‘making pieces for Alexa-alikes’. They are lovely, I’m just never going to be tall and willowy and wish there were more of the ‘seventies midis and ‘fifties sundresses St. Michael did so well that would flatter other body shapes. That said there are some lovely pieces, and I understand it’s her ‘edit’; I just would like to have my own!
I know the Harry blouse is ubiquitous at the moment but as soon as I saw the first shots of the collection I knew I had to make it mine. My love of piecrust blouses and Victoriana shirts has been well documented in the Everything Looks Rosie archives and – in spite of my misgivings about some of Alexa’s other tweaks – this incarnation has just the right amount of ruffle to make it feel contemporary rather than dress-up. That said, I did get a few funny looks as we wandered round Stockbridge on a Spring afternoon! I love the pale pink colour palette, a good alternative to white or cream if you’re peely wally like me.
I adore the details – from the ruffled cuffs to mini buttons (which certainly have a knack to them!). For its first outing, I wanted to pair my vintage-inspired blouse with something modern – again to avoid the danger of straying into dressing up box territory. My denim A-line skirt seemed the perfect partner, cinching in the waist and offering clean, contemporary lines to offset some of the shirt’s frilliness. My M&S trench coat and trusty Boden ankle boots finished things off simply – this is definitely an outfit combination I’ll be wearing again! The pastel doors and blossom-lined gardens of Stockbridge Colonies, tucked away from the hustle and bustle of Edinburgh, made for the perfect backdrop.
Did you get your hands on any of the Archive collection? Which company archives would you like to raid?