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.