I See London (But I Skip France) Just To See The Vintage Underpants

I’ve not yet been to London, or any other place across The Pond, but when I read this story of spies and lingerie–

Hold on a minute! Did I just say “spies and lingerie”?!

Yes; yes I did.

Former spy and first female Director General of MI5, Dame Stella Rimington (who went on to author spy novels), has just helped to open a huge historical archive for major UK retailer Marks & Spencer.

According to the company’s press release, the M&S Company Archive opened earlier this month at the University of Leeds, where the three-story Michael Marks Building holds more than 70,000 items from the 128 years in retailing, has temperature and humidity controlled units, conference facilities, a dedicated reading room facilitating direct access to the items, and includes expansion space for collections from the University library.

As for why the former spy is connected…

Dame Stella has an active interest in the launch of the Michael Marks Building due to her current role as a member of the governing body for the M&S Archive Community Interest Company (CIC), background as an archivist and previous work with M&S.

Oh, that mysterious “previous work with M&S” just kills me. Was her cover working as a retail clerk? What?! Tell me!

Of course, even if there was a Mata Hari-esque story, Dame Rimington likely wouldn’t confess it.

If she did, she’d have to kill us.

And kill is just about what we vintage lingerie collectors would do to get the information in these archives.

Sure, there’s more than lingerie history in these M&S archives, but vintage lingerie and fashion collectors suffer from a lack of information. I’ll let Emma Frankland explain:

Marks and Spencer fashions, once under the famous ‘St. Michael’ brand, ruled supreme for shoppers looking for well made, solid, reliable clothes. Their lingerie, especially in the 1950′s and 60′s, was exquisite. As a vintage lingerie seller who has sold literally scores of St. Michael slips over the years, I have noticed something – the almost complete absence of information available on the internet relating to their styles, labels, fabrics etc. Look as hard as you like – you won’t find much at all.

And access to such information is what makes me so excited!

To my knowledge, no American company has done anything like it. Macy’s is an even older retailer; but if there’s a corporate archive, it’s not open to the public. Thus the M&S Company Archive is truly a remarkable project and worthy of making travel plans to see. Perhaps the success of this project will even motivate other companies to do the same.

For more information, see the official archive website, aptly named Marks In Time.

[Image credits: Old Marks & Spencer store front photo via the M&S Company Archive; vintage Marks & Spencer "St. Michael" label slip via What Lies Beneath.]



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