I fear that one of my favourite labels has gone the way of all corporates.
Anyone who has ever read this blog might have worked out that I’m a great fan of Lands’ End.
When you live in the countryside as I do, the order of priorities for clothing changes a great deal from when you live in the city. In town, it might be beauty, comfort, function, but out here, it’s function, comfort, beauty – in that order.
Country clothing must, above all, be practical: if it looks nice, that’s a bonus. I spend about nine months of the year trying to stay warm. I walk dogs, I get covered in mud, I scramble under barbed wire fences. I’m miles from a (very expensive) dry cleaner, so my clothes have to preferably be washable. The woodburner throws sparks, I cook two or three times a day.
Over the 18 years I’ve lived here, my clothes have therefore become less and less anything to do with fashion. Instead, I favour country labels such as Barbour and Orvis, and technical labels such as Craghopper’s, Finisterre and Woolpower. A new discovery is Rohan (more of that later), but until now, I would have said Lands’ End was my real go-to label for everyday, practical clothing that looks nice and suits my life.
I discovered Lands’ End in 2011 when the DH bought the Insulated Squall Parka. It was a brilliant bit of kit – very lightweight, really warm, loads of pockets, including handwarmer pockets, a tough nylon shell that sloughs off the rain. It has an inner elasticated cuff to keep the draughts out, a two-way zip so you can undo it from top or bottom, a popper wind-stop closure and a removable hood.
I immediately went out and bought myself the non-insulated version (which is still extremely warm) and this is my standard on-road dog-walking coat, in bright daffodil yellow. And over the next three years I’ve dropped many hundreds of pounds in Lands’ End’s direction in the shape of fleece tunics, gilets and trousers; Starfish cotton jersey pants and tops; and numerous coats.
The firm, which was private, was bought by Sear’s in 2001 and there have been complaints ever since about the declining quality of the goods, but I hadn’t had a problem and it’s always with pleasure that I greet a new catalogue dropping through the post. This morning I read it, as usual, in the bath. But I was dismayed – it immediately became apparent that something was amiss.
There are no pictures of active women in the brochure. Time was, I used to flick through this thing and see women who looked somewhat like me, doing things similar to what I do – women walking their dogs, rambling through the countryside, boating, etc. Suddenly, instead, all the models are pictured against a featureless grey background, posed like models from any fashion catalogue. The text is about fashion, not about features. The clothes are about fashion, not about features. The older models are nowhere to be seen. I got almost to page 50 before I could find anything practical – these flimsy little garments aren’t going to keep a girl warm in the autumn chill.
Is my favourite label finally going down the tube and turning into a fashion house? God help us, because there are more than enough of those already – the last thing we need is another one. When it comes to fashion, I am kind of choosy, and willing to pay a premium to a company like Wall for organic, fair-trade, limited-edition clothing with an artisan streak. But these supposedly fashionable Lands’ End clothes look pretty frumpy to me and there’s an awful lot of polyester appearing where it used to be pure cotton.
What a disappointment. I know that the company has been struggling recently, but a rush to the bottom isn’t the way to sort this out, when every supermarket can produce low-priced sweat-shop labour clothing for those who like that sort of thing. I will be gutted if this is yet another label I can no longer trust.