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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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36 comments

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Highlight of the year, without a doubt, I thought. Then, assuming some exaggeration on my part I looked up the details ; it was Loadsamoney year – Phil Collins was in a top selling film, Ninja Turtles were the rage and Bros were the top band – it so awful I gave up on London and flew to New York for a decade. Yep, Next Directory was indeed the most exciting thing in the UK that year.

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Ah, remember it well. And as Lindsay pointed out, also Jeff Banks' Bymail (AKA Warehouse) catalogue – with Christy Turlington et al!

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After so many posts about your attic findings I can't help picture your attic as a magic Wonderland, now I really do not expect less than a queen and a white rabbit coming up next.
Despite my age, I do have some recollection of some of these catalogues my mom used to receive home in the 80s.
It was nothing nearly as beautiful as NEXT – that is probably why it took me a longer time to awake my interest in fashion 🙂

Thanks for sharing!

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Oh dear, you don't know what a huge favor you did for me by posting all this, LLG! What a superb treat. Thank you!

I recognized some names on those lists, and I recognized some looks I adopted and twisted for myself: white socks and black brogues being one—I wore white cotton socks that I scrunched to a faretheewell with black suede creepers and black miniskirts.

Oh, those thrilling days of yesteryear.

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Hi, I am writing an essay about 80s and would like to use some of your photography on next directory. Would you please give me the premission to do that?
Many Thanks

x

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This article is quite interesting to for two reasons. Onw because i am working within the next group at the moment and the other because i have a copy of that very first catalogue, still enclosed within it’s bubble pack. It is a wonderful example of beautiful photograghy and style. I do not think any catalogue has ever came close to the quality of the Next catalogue.

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How fab to see that you have an original copy of the Next catalogue. I used to be a model and in 1988 I was with Select Models and was booked to work for the Next Directory in America. I think the photographer was Sascha. Can you see my name in the book? And do you think you could send me any pics of the pages I am on as it would be great to show my Mum? I think I was wearing floral dresses and the like… I have very fair skin and long red hair. I would have been 17 years old when it was shot. I would be so grateful for any snaps etc as I am trying to get some archive pics together… Thank you so much. Please email me at samstrattonsims@yahoo.co.uk.

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Look carefully at the models in Next Directory 1 and 2 and you will spot Uma Thurman and Famke Jansen!

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How amazing to find you. I’ve never thought to look up ‘NEXT’ catalogues on the internet until today. We hope to be moving apartments this coming month and I have issues 1-13/15/17/19. I’ve kept them all these years because I just couldn’t bare to throw them out and reiterate so many of the comments here. The joy of receiving such a classy and glossy catalogue was bordering on the orgasmic! I too longed to buy so much and pored every page absorbing as much as possible. I loved the fabric swatches (can be very peculia about certain fabrics if they don’t feel good to the touch) and my favourite section was always the jewellery! So many over the years have told me to throw my catalogues away but in my heart I have always hoped to find someone who would treasure them and more so find a use for them, say a fashion student, fashion college etc. After all they are part of the history of fashion/costume!
PS I also have a load of Laura Ashley and Marks & Spencers catalogues from issue 1. To many I am sad, but they are treasures in their own right!

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