|The Bruton Street tea room|
"I was thinking about the M & S customer and who they were, and how I could help them come into fine fragrances. I didn't want them to be so refined nobody could get near them, so they had to be sophisticated and accessible."
For the benefit of readers outside the UK, your typical M & S shopper leans to the conservative - and older - side. In the cafe attached to my local branch you would be hard pushed to spot a customer not sporting a perm. Well, amongst the women, anyway. Their food hall is a whole other ball game, as M & S is synonymous with the ne plus ultra of ready meals, amongst other things. "This isn't just food porn, this is M & S food porn", as the adverts used to go (well, the subtext, anyway). Then there are also a couple of individual brands under the M & S umbrella which appeal to a (somewhat) younger demographic, namely Autograph and Per Una. Famously, one in three British women still buys her underwear in Marks, where they cater to every taste from boudoir chic balconette bras to big - and magic - knickers.
As far as perfume is concerned, I'll be honest and say that I have studiously tuned out to the M & S offering. The few scents I have tried in the past smelt cheap, old-fashioned, or both. I was reminded of that trio of later releases by Sarah Jessica Parker: Dawn, Endless and Twilight, in terms of the quality level where I felt they were pitched. Though this is all kneejerk stuff, I might add. I have been so indifferent to the M & S ranges in fact that I haven't even clocked any of the names, though I think there may have been one under the Autograph label on the theme of New York.
But when I heard of this joint venture between Lyn Harris and M & S, I was very, very curious, and equally optimistic. It has become quite common in the fashion world for a leading designer to create a budget range for a high street chain or supermarket: Amanda Wakeley for Principles, Barbara Hulanicki for Top Shop, Matthew Williamson for H & M, and Gok Wan for Sainsbury's, to name just four examples of the strategy. However, I don't recall anything like this happening in the world of fragrance - or certainly not bringing niche fragrance to the mass market on such a large scale. The plan apparently is to roll out the range into 126 stores eventually, but as my local branch is small and a bit time warp-y there was no point looking for it there.
|M & S HQ in Paddington - a sample-free zone|
Ever the market researcher, towards the back end of last year I rang M & S's head office in London and spoke to someone in Customer Services. I was informed that there was no store within easy striking distance of Stafford where I could test this range first hand. I inquired about the possibility of samples, explaining my particular interest as a British-based perfume blogger. No samples were available, but the lady in Customer Services was hopeful of having the lab make some up specially. "That sounds great", I said, and offered to supply empty vials if it all got too tricky, like that memorable occasion with Ormonde Jayne and Tiare. The samples never came. I rang back, and was referred to the M & S PR company, where I spoke to the person handling the account. She asked me to write in, explaining why I wanted the samples, mentioning the name of my blog etc etc, but thought that in principle it should be possible to rustle a few up somehow. The samples never came.
|M & S Preston - a serendipitous beacon of customer service!|
I made myself known to one of the sales staff, Christine, and explained my interest in the range, and how I was dying to try the perfumes and review them on my blog. In no time I had sprayed all six on my hands and arms, while Christine and I chatted amiably about the Lyn Harris venture, about her own favourite perfume (L'Heure Bleue), and her training from, and admiration for, Roja Dove. Saturated in scents, I asked after the possibility of samples, though I wasn't terribly hopeful. They had Scratch 'n' Sniff cards (or "Peel 'n' Sniff" to be precise) of La Rose, but that was the only one. Christine promptly handed me a whole clutch of these. But that still left the other five, notably the two remaining feminine scents, La Fleur and La Poudrée.
|Almost the M & S logo fashioned from La Rose Peel 'n' Sniff cards|
Mini-reviews to follow in Part 2!
Meanwhile, for readers who didn't live in Britain in the 80s, here is the advert to which the title: "Remember Preston" alludes...; - )
Photo of Lyn Harris from M & S website, photo of M & S HQ from artofthestate.co.uk, photo of M & S Preston from Google Maps, photo of M & S underwear from Ebay, other photos my own