The Next Directory in 1988: the catalogue that changed mail order

by Sasha Wilkins on January 21, 2010 · 34 comments

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I’ve been ferreting about in the attics again. After finding the Kate Moss issue of The Face from 1990 up there, I did some more excavating and came up with this launch copy of the Next Directory from 1988.

To those of you who are in your twenties, the very idea that a mail order catalogue was able to change our expectations of retail & the way we shop could possibly seem hyperbolic. And if I said that that catalogue was produced by High Street behemoth (& third biggest retail chain in the UK) Next, you’d probably snort with laughter. But back in the pre-on-line retail, pre-democratisation of style 1980s, catalogue shopping was a very different beast.

Downmarket, dull, printed on flimsy paper & based around the installment payment method, mail order catalogue shopping had little connection with style or even customer service: it wasn’t unusual to be given a window of 28 days for delivery.

And then along came retail genius George Davis and his Next Empire which launched in 1982. Next was known for everyday price points, a focus on excellent design, decent fabrics and very good tailoring, previously impossible to find on the High Street.

In 1988 he decided to address the moribund mail order world. He decided that the Next Directory cost would £3, the price of a book back then. It was an investment, a clear pitch at a quality audience, with its hardback covers, ribbon bookmarks and thick glossy paper stock.

There were real fabric swatches:

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And a vast team of photographers, stylists and hair & make-up, many of whom would go on to become some of the most respected names in the industry:

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Then there were the models:

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And hello Yasmin le Bon:

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I remember being so excited to receive my copy that I haunted the mail pigeonholes at my boarding school for a week. When it arrived I bunked class to sit and leaf through it, carefully marking out everything I wanted.

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And if that sounds strange, remember fashion wasn’t accessible then. There was no internet, so we relied on magazines and newspapers to bring us fashion news. The High Street was a wasteland and I relied on charity shops & vintage to try to copy what I saw in British W (then a short lived newspaper) and Vogue. There was no Grazia interpreting fashion or Topshop setting trends back then. So a glossy fashion catalogue was really, really big news.

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Not that I could afford any of it. Clothes were still expensive, relatively. The idea of fast, cheap fashion hadn’t happened yet and if you check the prices in the Directory they aren’t far off what we pay now twenty years later.

Flicking through the Directory in 2010, on the tail end of the eighties fashion revival, it’s refreshing to be reminded what 80s fashion actually looked like for normal people, rather than the filtered version served up these days.

There’s classic aerobics workout gear:

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I remember very clearly wanting this striped dress with a deep & desperate longing:

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The obligatory 80s pinstriped power suits:

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There were mens suits, all boxy shouders and double breasted,

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and a look which epitomises the 80s for me: monochrome, riffing on the 1950s:

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Ah my youth.

I’ve put a whole load of images up on my LLG archive flickr account here

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