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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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35 comments

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I worked at Next in the eighties & was there when the first directory was produced. Next was looking for petite & larger models & a young girl at our branch Nikki Perry was chosen for the petite section. She has lovely long curly hair in the pics.
It was a very exiting time working for Next in those days & we had to approach every customer & serve them properly, unlike now!
We felt very special working there & were invited to lots of exiting fashion shows & training opportunities. It all changed when George was ousted 🙁

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I too have a copy of the first next catalogue in very good condition,it even has the tape measure still in it.. Anyone interested in making me an offer?

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Around 89/90 I bought a light coloured houndstooth check blazer. I used to wear it with jeans and next fitted poloshirt or with smart trousers and blouse. I used to let my sister wear it occasionally. We have fond memories of it and we still refer to it as my Bobby Ewing jacket. Would love to find a picture of it in archives.

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Fascinating .. I have just stumbled across this site whilst checking the Directory launch date for my new CV.

I worked at the offices in Gedding Road, Leicester and was involved in various aspects of helping to manage parts of the order line and general customer enquiries from day one.

Myself and a number of colleagues worked 7 days a week during the launch period – with the BBC, the odd national and local newspaper and The Clothes Show guys (if I remember correctly including Jeff Banks) visiting to see how the pre-launch and launch where going.

The quality of the Directory (we were not allowed to refer to it as a catalogue) was unbelievable when compared to general mail order catalogues of the time, and the buzz around the office when we were all given a desk copy for reference was tangible.

It was hard work at the time hitting all the deadlines, recruiting and training staff and getting ready for launch day, but at the same time real fun and exciting being in the limelight and part of a great team of people.

Most of us felt quite special and privileged to be involved , especially as George would ‘pop’ in almost daily or drop into the call centre during the evening shift to see how things were going … always upbeat and supportive and quite refreshing and very motivational at the time that he always insisted that you called him George (never Mr Davis) .. it made you really feel part of his team .. sadly never quite felt the same after he left ..

Ahh! – great memories .. I am so glad that I was involved .. such a shame that we never thought to take pictures in the office at the time to look back at

Ps – my copy of the First Directory is definitely not for sale .. it’s part of my personal history

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Just stumbled across your post, I’ve worked for Next since 1989 and you’ve brought back a lot of fond memories of how exciting and exclusive those early days of the Directory used to be (I still have issues 1-10 proudly on display on a shelf in my lounge which causes great hilarity amongst friends when they look at them. Thanks for making em smile this evening and yes, OMG Yasmin looked fab!

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