Mary Portas opens her shop: the Handbag.com review!

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Yesterday Mary Portas unveiled her very first fashion, accessories and homeware shop to the public. Handbag.com paid it a visit - all in the name of research, of course...

© House of Fraser

Retail expert Mary Portas is best known for her work on TV, showing businesses how they can provide a better shopping experience, no matter whether they are a tiny corner shop or an international chain. Mary knows what she is talking about; her entire career has been spent either behind the scenes at retail companies, or advising others - including David Cameron, who recently recruited Mary to help solve the problem of our floundering high streets.

Now Mary is putting her money where her mouth is and has used her retail expertise to create her own shop. On Thursday, customers flocked to House of Fraser on Oxford Street to see the unveiling of 'Pret a Portas', touted as whole new shopping experience. Predominantly targeted at the over-40s, an age group Mary considers to be under-catered for on the high street, this shop is meant to represent everything Mary thinks is great about retail. She has been involved in planning every aspect: from the fashion collection, to the exceptional service, to the specially designed environment. Obviously, if Mary is offering us a new, better way to shop, Handbag.com wanted to check it out on behalf of our readers (it's no trouble, honest!)

Entering House of Fraser on a busy Friday lunchtime is obviously not stress free, so it is a welcome relief to step into the designated 'Mary' lift - easy to spot, as it is bedecked in her signature orange shade. The same colour hits you upon exiting the lift, as it is used for many of the shop fixtures - including a stunning wall of shoeboxes. The general environment is relaxed and stylish, with garments arranged in outfit sections for easy shopping, helpful assistants stepping up to greet you and offer assistance and a general atmosphere of calm. Viewers of any of Mary's recent TV shows will remember her vehement disapproval of the blaring music and dis-interested attitude of under-trained shop staff in big high street chains - Pret a Portas is the antithesis of those shops.

Down to business: what does Mary Queen of Frocks actually want us to buy? The Mary Portas Ready to Wear collection features items that she has designed as part of a capsule wardrobe concept: the key garments that you need to be "out of the door in ten minutes and looking hot", as she says herself - bright silky blouses have been selling like hot cakes, so she is obviously getting something right. For accessories, Mary has collaborated with Clarks, Radley and Charnos, to produce excellent ranges of shoes, bags and hosiery. The colour scheme incorporates orange (naturally), teal, burgundy, purple and black; we particularly love the Clarks dolly-style shoes and the big, fringed bags from Mary and Radley. The Charnos polka tights are fun too! There is also a great mixture of garments from labels Mary admires, essential pieces from Whistles, Bastyan, Day Birger et Mikkelsen, J Brand, Barbour, Tucker, MaxMara, Marc Cain and Levi's. The neon lace dress from Whistles is a Handbag.com favourite. There is also a range of 'Mary recommends Playtex' lingerie, because as she says, "if you get the foundations right the outfit on top looks ten times better". Wise words.

Wandering over to the homeware department, there is a tasteful selection of foodie goods and home accessories: china mugs with birds printed inside were sweet. This area definitely seemed to be going down well with Mary's target clientele - there were plenty of well dressed ladies over forty snapping up household items alongside a sparkly jumper. Even though not everybody at Handbag Towers falls into the target market age group, there were plenty of things on offer to tickle our fancy, and we very much enjoyed our visit. Mary says "When shops are truly great, they provide remarkable and extraordinary experiences to brighten up peoples' lives" - we don't know about our lives, but a visit to Pret a Portas certainly brightened up our lunchtime!

Mary & House of Fraser is available at the Oxford Street store and online. Let us know what you think!

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