I’ve been so busy with work the last couple of weeks, especially in the last few days that I’ve not had time to post. By the time I get in, have dinner and a bit of a chill, it’s bedtime. Today has been my first free day in a while and even then work called. They want me to consider a team leader position. I have a week to think about it. It will mean me being in charge of people and will mean more meetings in nice restaurants and hotels in Manchester but I get to choose where! Go Tom!
I had planned to have Wednesday afternoon off as I had been invited to the official opening of the Mary Portas shop in Kendal’s on Deansgate. I had planned to go home, chill for the afternoon then travel into the city in the evening. Work really needed me for the afternoon so I did that for them. Maybe that was why I got the call this morning about the team leader or it may have been the deal maker.
I left about 4 and when I turned the radio on I heard disturbing news. We might be having a strike of the people who transport the fuel to our petrol stations. There is no final decision about when it will be, the two sides are talking about reconciling the dispute but the government waded in and told people not to panic. Nobody was until then, but I heard that there had been nasty scenes over fuel on The Wirral (the posh side of the River Mersey facing the city of Liverpool). So I decided to get some fuel as I was down to 1/4 full. I drove to the petrol station at the huge ASDA near the Trafford Centre (close to where I was and cheap by UK standards) and found it closed and out of fuel! I was just wondering where I could do my panic buying when I spotted that the BP petrol station at the Trafford Centre was still open and there was no queue so I drove in and filled up with their extremely expensive petrol. Goal achieved it was home for a shower and an attempt to make myself look fabulous enough to be seen at a fashion store opening.
I arrived at 7pm and strode into Kendal’s in front of the assembled paparazzi but they didn’t seem too interested in me.
Inside the entrance of the store there was a cool jazz band to welcome us.
I was directed up to the second floor where the shop is and did my strut down the specially laid orange carpet put down in Ms. Portas’s honour. I thought it was a good touch.
People had already arrived and the shop was already quite busy with well dressed, well groomed Manchester ladies cooing over designs and colours and prints. Waiters were deftly making their way between the guests with trays of champagne and wine and water. I went for the champagne option. I’d already broken my Lent promise not to drink alcohol in this very store so I decided if I was going to burn in hell I might as well be hung for a sheep as for a lamb if that’s not one too many mixed metaphors. There were also delicious little bits of food which I believe are called ‘amuses bouches’ in the circles I now seem to be moving in. The savoury ones were nice but the one I ended up managing to have four of was a coconut cream and almond confection which was delicious and I loathe coconut.
I chose to wear my dark blue Paul Smith suit and, for contrast my orange silk tie and some little, subtle bits of bling from Tiffany’s. I’d noticed that Mary seemed to like both these colours so it was a little homage to her. I was pleased to get compliments on my appearance with the tie getting a lot of attention. I’d bought it in Cambridge a couple of years ago. It was in the window of a gentleman’s outfitters near the colleges. I can’t remember its name. I think the store had been there for nearly 400 years and had been outfitting gentlemen at Cambridge University for all of that time. There was no price on it in the window (it one one of THOSE stores) so I just went in said I wanted it, here’s my card and DON’T tell me the price! I’m still unaware how much it cost but I have never regretted it. Like Edith Piaf ~ ‘Je ne regrette rein.’
Here are a few pictures of the Manchester fashionistas enjoying the party and networking like their life depended upon it.
Once the party was in full swing the great lady herself appeared looking effortlessly stunning in black trousers, the acid green top, black shoes, a piece of statement jewellery and her trademark red bobbed hair. (That was my poor attempt at being a fashion reporter, I have watched Gok Wan only occasionally). She tirelessly worked the room meeting and greeting fans and customers. Apparently she had already done her official interviews with the Manchester Evening News and the online Manchester Confidential (I think it was) so this was for the public. In some of the pictures you might spot some of the cast of local soap opera, Coronation Street, at the party which was fun to see but Mary was the star tonight.
The band from downstairs had joined us as well playing and singing their interpretations of everything from classics from Frank Sinatra to modern songs by the likes of Katy Perry, serenading the ladies at the party. Here’s their website and a couple of youTube videos to enjoy.
I didn’t get to talk with Mary but I did get to chat for a while with Lesley Cracknell who is one of the 7 apprentices who Mary has taken on to actually make the knickers in the factory in Middleton in North Manchester. She was a delight to meet and we talked for a while. She’s had a variety of jobs from working in a pickle factory to doing security work she told me. She had an accident a while ago and broke a leg which made security work difficult and had been unemployed for 18 months in an area of the city where jobs are few and far between in a time when the country is experiencing difficult economic times.
Meeting her, you get the impression, that at some time she would have made it and done something that would make an impact. Living in the part of the city she does, that would be difficult though and Mary has come along and given her the opportunity she needed. She is a natural leader and communicator and I’m sure Mary will have noticed this and she has had a heightened profile in the Channel 4 TV show that has been following the process of making and marketing the knickers. I’m sure that this will lead to opening doors for her in Mary’s organisation or other areas she may be interested in. All the apprentices have been affected by this experience and on last night’s programme we got to see how the having of a job and having a reason to get out of bed in the morning has transformed their lives. One, Andrew, was able to take his girlfriend out for a meal for the first time, something most of us take for granted, and he was able to buy things for his little son and had broken the cycle of living on benefits that his family was locked into. I thought that was moving and showed what could be done with imagination and determination. People from areas like the poorer parts of Manchester were vilified after the riots last Summer and while the ones who rioted needed to be brought to justice, the vast number of people who lived in these areas are just law abiding people who need a break.
Back to Lesley. She is one of those people who has an innate sense of style and the ability to wear something and make it look wonderful. In my picture she’s wearing what looks like a schoolboy’s shirt and trousers, like I used to wear and looked bad in. She added a little of the lace edging that appears on the knickers, casually over her shoulders, and looks wonderful. Last night, on TV, she wore a tie and waistcoat outfit at the official launch of Kinky Knickers at Liberty’s in London and outshone all those London ladies who had turned up for the event.
She did tell me something about her clothes which I will not reveal on here or anywhere else. If she reads this, her secret is safe with me!
And as I left Kendal’s I was delighted to see that they had bathed the iconic, art deco, Deansgate store in orange light in honour of the occasion. It was good that they coordinated the building with my tie. Will this be happening every time I enter the store I wonder?
The Manchester Evening News revealed that the business is doing so well they have had to take on more people. There is talk of opening more factories and exporting the knickers abroad. I hope the factories will be in Manchester. It seems that the TV coverage will continue later in the year. I liked the way Mary finished the programme last night. We have become used to seeing the people who make the knickers in the factory and have realised that buying the knickers will support their future employment. Last night Mary showed us all the other people who were being kept employed in packing, lace making and lace dyeing and so on. One pair of knickers was keeping around 30 people employed. Those people with money in their pockets were spending elsewhere keeping others employed, a virtuous circle……… It’s not exactly difficult is it?
The Manchester Confidential interview with Mary Portas states that the knickers are virtually sold out in all the stores that stock them across the country and it will be a while until the factory can make enough to do another drop. Out of interest I went on eBay to see what was there and what do you know? Kinky Knickers on sale at 3 times, and rising, the price you pay in the stores. Though be warned, if you put ‘Kinky Knickers’ into eBay’s search engine be prepared to see a lot of items that don’t have the Mary Portas seal of approval! Capitalism in the raw I guess.
And many thanks to Nicola for getting me on the guest list. I had a great time.