'Mary Queen of Shops' puts her head on the block in Oxford Street

Retail guru Mary Portas will risk her reputation when she opens her own store this summer

Kate Youde
Sunday 29 May 2011 00:00

She has spent years telling stores where they are getting it wrong and waging war on poor customer service. This summer, the retail guru Mary Portas will have the chance to practise what she preaches when she launches her own shop.

The television star, whom David Cameron has enlisted to conduct an independent review of the future of the high street, is going into partnership with House of Fraser in London's Oxford Street.

The deal will see the "Queen of Shops", who has built a career out of turning around failing businesses, create a collection for the department store that is aimed at "grown-up" women. It will be the first time she has endorsed a product with her name.

The venture will feature in a new television show for Channel 4 this autumn in which Ms Portas will look at the retail market for women over the age of 40. Earlier this year, the broadcaster aired Mary Portas: Secret Shopper, a series that saw the expert go under cover to investigate customer service on the high street.

Jessica Brown, editor of the fashion industry magazine Drapers, said opening her own outlet was a "very brave" thing for Ms Portas to do. "I think she has to be careful because if there is an instance of anything less than impeccable service, people are going to jump on it," she warned.

A spokeswoman for Ms Portas said the retail expert, a former creative director at the department store Harvey Nichols, was unavailable for comment. Earlier this week, Ms Portas wrote on Twitter that her "lips are sealed on [the] details" of the shop but posted a link to her recruitment advertisement.

In the advert, she says: "In the summer of this year, I'm opening up my own shop in partnership with House of Fraser. My plan is to put a lifetime's thoughts and experience into practice. Not a challenge for the fainthearted."

In 1997, Ms Portas founded the retail and brand communication agency Yellowdoor, which works with high street shops such as Clarks and has advised House of Fraser in the past. She became a household name thanks to the BBC shows Mary Queen of Shops, in which she helped failing small businesses, and Mary Queen of Charity Shops, which saw her transform a branch of Save the Children.

Ms Portas, who advised the pop singer Lily Allen and her sister Sarah Owen on the launch of their vintage fashion store Lucy in Disguise, will be "personally handpicking" sales and service professionals at "auditions" next month. She tells potential applicants in the advert: "I want to create the kind of retailing where the experience you'll offer will genuinely create new benchmarks for our industry."

A spokesman for House of Fraser declined to comment.

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