EIGHTY TWO years after her first modelling assignment Pauline Crystal was back on the catwalk yesterday for a unique show in praise of the enduring fashions of high street favourite Marks & Spencer.
Back in 1930, aged just three, she modelled a pair of jodhpurs by sitting astride a rocking horse, a job she only vaguely recalls but which set in motion a love of clothes and a lifetime of modelling.
Eight decades on and Mrs Crystal, now 86, is still in demand but her latest job was something of a departure from the norm when she showed off a variety of vintage styles, chosen and purchased by Leeds University fashion and design students from auction site eBay.
The challenge, ahead of the official opening of the Marks & Spencer company archive at its new permanent home at the university, saw fashion students challenged to source their own models and dress them in vintage and modern M&S clothing, using the archives for inspiration.
Yesterday the Leeds-born model and former Marks & Spencer manager, found herself in a 1970s M&S faux fur coat, a 1960s M&S shift dress, a modern white men’s shirt and lace tights.
The coat cost the students £45 and the dress £35.
It wasn’t the kind of gear she would go shopping in, she joked, although it was “very nice; somebody will enjoy it”.
Over the years she has modelled bridal gear and department store fashions but is a newcomer to the world of retro.
“I prefer the tailored look,” said sMrs Crystal, changing from the eBay outfit into a Coco Chanel-style black-and-white suit. “If it is simple, it is better. Young people can wear what they like and how they like. The fashion of today suits young people, which it should do.
“I am an M&S girl. The clothes are wonderful – I live in them.”
During her career as a manager with M&S she helped the firm choose what might sell well and also gave tips to up-and-coming models: “My advice was hold your tummy in and push your bust out.”
Mrs Crystal was one of several models at the university yesterday wearing vintage and new M&S gear in tribute to the store’s enduring popularity.
Student Alice Law, 21, who bid for the eBay items, declared herself satisfied with Mrs Crystal’s “look” and with M&S in general.
“They (M&S) have gone more ‘Fresh’ and younger. Pauline could go in there and so could me and my friends.”
Watching the catwalk show was M&S archivist Katharine Carter, who is preparing for the opening in March of the full archive at the new Michael Marks building. It has now moved permanently from London to Leeds, the city where the company began.
Ms Carter said the archive contains about 70,000 objects, including weird and wonderful fashions from down the decades, as well as photographs and advertising materials dating back to its founding days.
But there is always space for more, she said.
“There are quite a few garments in the collection. Some have been donated by members of the public.
“In fact, my mum donated two kaftans from the 1970s. She bought them as evening wear just after she had got married. We are always looking to add to the collection, which goes back to the 1920s.
“We have some really beautiful underwear and a black silk blouse and vintage items donated by former employees.
“We are also trying to collect items from recent years and even from this year.
“We want to showcase the best of M&S and the trends from the period.”
The archive is expected to be of particular interest to staff and students working in subjects including business, economics, textiles, history, communications, marketing, food sciences and the social sciences.
Back at the catwalk show, Mrs Crystal is telling a family story about her great grandfather, a market trader in Leeds who apparently turned down an offer from a fellow trader, one Mrs Marks.
She said: “My great grandfather, known as Sloman the Soap King, turned him down.
“He went into business with Spencer and the rest is history.
“We always have a little laugh when we walk past Marks & Spencer.”