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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{ 33 comments… read them below or add one }

Angela Montague January 22, 2010 at 02:05

So interesting. I'm a copywriter and a big part of my income comes from writing mail order catalogues.

I welcomed this chance to remind myself how different it used to be. Very enjoyable and infomative. Thank you.

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That's Not My Age January 22, 2010 at 02:27

Wow – all those amazing photographers, and the lovely Yasmin le Bon. What else have you got in your attic?

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Ceri January 22, 2010 at 04:36

This has made me SO nostalgic. I remember being so excited about the launch of the Next directory. I grew up in a small town, I was 15 in 1988 and this was a complete revolution. LIke you, I can vividly remember lusting after some of the outfits pictured.

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Hodmandod January 22, 2010 at 05:00

Sigh… thank you. I got married in 1987 and some my trousseau came from Next (with designer copies made by mother mother – ie Calvin Klein from a Vogue pattern and a glorious pair of Martine Sitbon shoes – most expensive item)such as a long A line cream line skirt – wish I still had it. Gave me a shiver to look at these images. Was at Vogue in early 1980s, then working with Pat Crouch at exactly this time. She was my fashion ed when I was deputy ed of The Magazine. Ah, memories.

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Dash January 22, 2010 at 05:35

Blimey, what a blast from the past, I remember Next opening in the local town, it seemed so sophisticated, with it's wooden floors and stylish merchandising, so grown up compared to the former Saturday teenage girl hang out of Miss Selfridges (Though fond memories of Miss S too, especially the make up and accessory counters).

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notjustmedical January 22, 2010 at 05:59

For someone who was born on the brink of the 90s, it's amazing to realise how much has actually changed during my lifetime. My generation of internet addicts have never even had to touch a fashion catalogue.

S
http://notjustmedical.wordpress.com

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NorthWestLondonGirlInTheCountry January 22, 2010 at 06:08

I remember this so well and I also bought the long cream cardigan with the navy stripe you show. What a perfect journey down memory lane. A simple reminder of how lucky we all are now to have easy access to all forms of fashion whenever we want it xx

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Lindsay January 22, 2010 at 06:26

I remember being sooo excited by Next Directory growing up in a tiny village with little access to clothes without the train ride to Edinburgh or Glasgow. I had the stripy dress that you coveted and wore it till it fell off. Do you remember the Warehouse mail order catalogue by Jeff Banks around the same time? So excited when that popped through the door too.

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HLEure January 22, 2010 at 08:22

Thank you for this little peek into recent fashion history that many of us have either forgotten or were a bit too young a the time to remember now. I teach a university-level course on fashion and writing and would love to share this information with my students. They were all born after 1988, and I'm sure most don't remember the world pre-internet and and pre-fast-fashion.

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PASSION GIRL January 22, 2010 at 08:31

I think for 80's this was a great idea..in these internet days we used to order via online shops and still use sometimes the Victoria Secret catalogue to chose any models from the collection.definitely nostalgic and good for us to remember our very smooth and easy days..thanks for sharing..

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