Wednesday, 13 April 2016

A Little St Michael Magic

Today’s the day. The launch of Archive by Alexa: the M&S archives opened up for Alexa Chung to plunder and renew. I must admit, when I first heard the news, I experienced a strange mix of thrill and frustration. Why? St Michael (aka vintage M&S, the name spanning from 1928 to 2000) has always felt slightly like my thing. A fusty, durable, quietly brilliant clothing line I’ve been collecting for years: nestling alongside Jaeger and Laura Ashley to form a very British vintage trio. Not a secret, exactly. Plenty of people will give a wise, knowing nod on mention of St Michael: the kind of nod that indicates they get it, and there's probably a similar inner squeak when sighting that distinctive black, white and red label when trawling charity shops or vintage markets.

I’ve been collecting it since I was 14: velvet blazers (in black and plum), a black and white kilt I wear every winter, the odd hat, big jumpers (I have the same one in four different shades: navy, raspberry, mustard, and white), several brightly patterned mini-dresses, culottes (again, in four different colour-ways: green, cream, terracotta, and floral), trousers, a pretty shirt or two... An endless array has wormed its way into my wardrobe. Some has left again: being too small, or just not quite right anymore. Other things are being added all the time.

I love it all the more because the designs veer between the very gorgeous, and the intensely, excruciatingly of their time (there’s a hell of a lot of synthetic eighties-does-fifties tea dresses knocking around). Some things I pick up with glee and carry home. Plenty of others I’ll happily leave to subside into their piecrust collared dodgy glory. But it’s always exciting to spot – to know that my second hand instincts are fine-tuned enough to sniff out St Michael at twenty paces. 

So given all this, I’m ambivalent over Archive by Alexa. I love, love, love M&S’s design history – and my head tells me “the more the merrier” when it comes to celebrating all those gorgeous shapes and patterns. There are some incredibly delectable looking garments on offer, which will be worn and enjoyed by many. Also, I can’t imagine how much fun it was to explore such rich pickings and have the privilege to update some of them (if I’m honest, maybe I’m just a tad envious).

Yet there’s still a little tug to my heart: the petulant, toddler-like desire to go, “no. I found it first. I don’t wanna share.” It’s the style equivalent of being impelled to mention that you knew a band before they got big. Silly and frivolous, yes, but oh so very human.

Still, perhaps I can subside into the smug pleasure of having my own small archive. It’s limited, but perfectly formed. I wear those big jumpers all the time, because they’re the comfiest things I own. My seventies striped mini is brought out every summer. The velvet blazers go with everything from ball-gowns to black trousers. That lime green and blue striped bikini spent a lot of last summer being worn to swim in the river. And just a few weeks ago, I located my latest addition: a shin-length, long-sleeved, high collared white dress with blue polka dots. I bought it from a vintage market for £3. And you know what? I’m wearing it right now.

Pictured above are a handful of images drawn from the last six years of blog archives, all featuring some St Michael magic of one variety or another. From top to bottom: St Michael plum velvet blazer, St Michael cream culottes on two different shoots, St Michael embellished black hat, St Michael striped two-piece, St Michael black velvet blazer, St Michael geometric print mini-dress worn first by me (with straightened hair) and then by a friend - Emma, for photos I took of her many years back. 

The blog has been rather quiet of late, and possibly will continue to be for the next month or so. I have my final year exams coming up, so have had my head down revising medieval dream visions and the like. More regular style witterings will be resumed soon. In the meantime though, go and have a read of this piece I wrote for ThandieKay on the women who inspire me most


Vix said...

Everyone loves vintage St Michael, it flies off my rails. Well made and decent quality it beats new Marks and Spencer's tat hands down. I'd be interested to see whether this new range (which I'd never heard of until you mentioned it) is as well made as the original stuff. I cut through M&S when I'm in town and am always shocked by the poor quality, shoddy hemlines and badly finished stuff on display.
You look wonderful in your collection, far better than that Alexis woman probably does in her freebies! xxx

AVY said...

Love the swimsuit and the velvet jacket.


Melanie said...

Oh yes, the re-commercialization of something that has slipped out of sight or the mainstreaming of a fringe thing about to go big - I have the sense of loss too, the petulant toddler feeling, as you say. When it goes big the edges so often get knocked off. I enjoyed your piece for ThandieKay.


I'm sort of interested in viewing the pieces in Archive by Alexa, but like you, I think it's nice to have your own collection of St. Michael full of stories of their own. I often have that feeling about unknown bands, and they always become very popular afterward. :) The personal inspirational women article was a marvel.

Lola Byatt said...

Shin length polka dot dress with a high collar? sounds divine! and even more pleasing when it comes with a £3 price tag! I have been excited about the archive by alexa collection, I saw the victorian style blouse with the ruffles and have been eagerly anticipating the time when I could buy it!
I love your pictures from the archives, you photograph so well, the first out is so beautiful! x

NIKY J said...

Everything looks so amazing! Xx

Sofie Marie said...

I have honestly never heard of a 'St Michael', so it was interesting to read this and get a tiny sense of its history. I am terribly snobbish these days and find it incredibly hard to get enthusiastic about clothing in high street shops. I think I associate clothes shopping too heavily with small shops, and little city trips- casual shopping just makes me feel too guilty and bored.

Good look with your finals and dissertation marks :) How fast university life flies..... (I feel terribly twee and nostalgic, as I'm reminded of your post announcing your achieving a place at Oxford)


Porcelina said...

Oh yes, love a bit of St Michael - just bought a black velvet coat actually for £2! You have some fab items in your collection x

Nia Kamau said...

Love, love, love your style! Your whole blog is such an encouragement for me to try new things and explore my own style instead of just going with the trend. :) Thanks so much for putting so much into this blog!