LIZ JONES FASHION THERAPYSuddenly everyone's talking about Bonmarch. But did it pass my test
01:56 GMT, 30 April 2012
Truthfully, I shouldn’t be here. I should be in Topshop or Prada. This is the fashion equivalent of a hip replacement, with a dose of MRSA on the side. I am inside Bonmarch, the store that is unashamedly aimed at the over-45s. Oh dear God, the sizes start at a generous 12! This is like sending me to review the food in McDonald’s!
Bonmarch sounds French, but it’s not. It was founded in 1982 in Wakefield, West Yorkshire, by a Sikh immigrant, Parkash Singh Chima.
Sold at haste by an ailing Peacocks in January to Sun European Partners (I know, it’s not exactly Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy), when 160 stores were closed, it has in the months since experienced something of a resurrection.
Timeless: Elegant looks for the evening, pearl-trimmed maxi dress, 39.50, left, and on holiday, bouquet printed maxi dress, 29.50
This month, Bonmarch was crowned Britain’s Best Women’s Clothing Retailer at the Verdict Research Awards. In a survey of 6,000 shoppers, Bonmarch beat stiff competition from other fashion retailers, with H&M coming in second and Marks & Spencer third.
Also last week, Bonmarch was crowned ‘Best for flattering fit’ by readers of Yours, the magazine for the over 50s. So, it has its fans.
It even has a designer range: David Emanuel, the man who gave Princess Diana a puffball.
I venture to the branch in Taunton in Somerset, where there seems to be 20 per cent off everything. It reminds me of a branch of Millets, circa 1972 — lots of plaid shirts and horrid vests.
Synthetic fabric is everywhere, so the place positively crackles: the trenchcoats look ok in photographs, but in the flesh they feel and look nylon-y and cheap. The trousers are all poor quality, and inferior to those you would find in M&S.
Despite selling some of the company in January for 10m, Bonmarch still has 230 stores in the UK and employs 2,400 people
And do older, bigger women want so many pairs of shorts, or cropped trousers The jewellery is awful — great big gaudy necklaces and bits of tat. The sleepwear is appalling unless you are 100, and past caring: I’d have liked natural fabrics, important for feeling fresh.
But, but, but. The swimwear is not bad — costumes on the whole give good coverage and support, but the bust is not too foamy, nor are they over-decorated, which they can be at Marks.
The blazers, in stone or navy, are a bit fussy, with a trim at the pocket, but in a good linen mix, and at 25, you can’t complain. And the jeans, at 15, are soft and inky, and come in every fit you could think of.
But where the store scores is that the staff are knowledgeable and helpful. There is none of the bored insolence you find in younger High Street stores. And every garment is designed with the typical British woman in mind, not a giraffe.
Online, the David Emanuel collection is not bad, apart from the ubiquitous waterfall jacket — you know, a flounce from collar to hem, worn by women who feel fat. A pleated cropped jacket at 25 screams ‘Kill me now!’, but a cream pleated dress, for 39.50, is OK, as is a print maxi dress, 39.50, with its high waist.
The Emanuel collection all feels quite fashiony, too: use of mesh, floral, and fluoro colours…
I speak to half-a-dozen customers outside my local branch on Tuesday afternoon, and all the women are enthusiastic.
When I ask Jean, who is 74, why she doesn’t go to Primark instead (the sweaters there are better quality, for example), she says she finds it too big, too intimidating.
And when I ask Mary, who is in her 70s, whether she wouldn’t rather buy a top that is better quality and that will last, she replies: ‘There’s no point. I won’t be around much longer!’
Which pretty much sums up Bonmarch. It doesn’t care too much about fashion. It knows its customers want garments that are easy to get on and off, without too many fiddly fastenings, and at prices they can afford.
But I’d advise the new owners to forget the sweatshirts and the vests. Why not aim wholeheartedly at women of retirement age
You know, the ones referred to by Mary
Portas as ‘old biddies’, who are neglected on the High Street, with
only the M&S Classics range to fall back on. Improve the quality and
give the much older woman a wardrobe stuffed with classics.
How about a velvet maxi for Christmas
with a cream, Victoriana pie-crust collar blouse to go with it Perfect
court shoes in navy An affordable wool coat in raspberry A cashmere
lounging suit The possibilities are endless.
MY FIVE BEST BUYS
Navajo print crochet sundress, 20
Sequin crochet zip bag, 10
Animal necklace blouse, 22.50
Milano cardigan in navy, 16.50
David Emanuel blue quilted gilet, 25