Fortnum and Mason

My nostalgia archive was called Retrograph Archive which consisted of social history through consumer advertising. I had also sourced in Paris and Bruxelles, a multitude of beautiful mint labels from the printers. Perfume, soap, cigar labels, alcohol labels, wine, champagne, beverages, hotel, shipping, airline and textile labels. These were dated from 1860 to 1960. 100 years of packaging.

Yes, I was proud of my important collection which was an archive. I set up Retrograph Archive as a joke in 1986 having been placed in the 1985 edition of Picture Sources UK. Little did I realise when the entry was published that I would become a kosher nostalgia archive nor know that Retrograph would become a member of BAPLA and exhibit at the London book fair at Olympia in London becoming the 4th nostalgia and graphic design archive in the UK featuring in all the UK media directories.

I would do the visual research, often instructed by picture researchers, who in the 1980s were underpaid at £10-12 an hour whereas I commanded £25 an hour! I had some interesting research jobs and would charge for presentations on top.  Time is money as they say in the business world and I was no longer in the Mickey Mouse world of cash in the markets of London and Paris.

One day I received a phone from Yvonne, the marketing manager of the prestigious Fortnum and Masons. She had my brochure and was working with the designer on ideas for the autumn hamper catalogue. They wanted a presentation of perfume, cigars and alcohol labels. No problem. I was very quick to hone in on my future client's request. An appointment was made in the later afternoon.

Price was never discussed although I gave them the price list for brochures and catalogues which depended on position, size and territory. They stayed so long that at 19.00 I had to tactfully ask them to leave after they had ordered dozens of transparencies. This was not the digital age. My professional photographer husband Martin Breese had to take time off from his magical world of publishing to shoot the originals. Then they would be biked over to Fortnums after Flash had developed them.

Months went by and I didn't hear a thing. In fact I had forgotten until one day in August, Yvonne asked me to visit the fashionable store for a board meeting. Me go to the client? Never had I been asked before, to be at the beck and call of my client! Quelle horreur!

Martin had worked in the advertising world as a successful copywriter. He knew!

     'They want you to come down on price!'
     'Oh dear!'
     'Tell them to open an account and you will take the reduction in wine!'

I dressed smartly and was ushered into the board room. Yvonne sat opposite me smiling nervously. The head graphic designer was to her left while the production manager was to her right. The maquette was in the centre of the enormous table.

     'We've used 20 of your labels for the backgrounds.'
     'Yes I can see, the brochure looks very good.'
     'And we have used 10 images which are very blurred for the perfume!'

Yvonne looked pleadingly at me and then back to the blurred images.

     'Are you trying to haggle with me Yvonne?' I demanded.

Yvonne coughed nervously and continued in 'pain' in a scripted voice.

     'In view of them being blurred, could you reduce your bill by £3,000?'

     'No problem, just open an account and I'll take food and wine in lieu!'

An astonished Yvonne turned her eyes to her colleague, the designer who lowered his eyes consenting but not smiling. Seconds later, she continued.

     'That's fine, Jilliana, we will open an account today with £3,000 credit.'

It's a funny feeling going into a store and taking the chosen item off the shelf, not looking at the price. I guess that's what the wealthy do, if they go out shopping in a luxury store by appointment to the Queen. It took me 2 or 3 years to get through the amount.

The brochure came out with full credits for Picture research to Jilliana Ranicar-Breese and with images from Retrograph Archive while Martin Breese was credited with the photography. The blurred background images were in a smaller perfume and jewellery catalogue and also fully credited.

But here's the joke, Fortnums accidentally posted Retrograph a cheque for the full amount but I didn't bank it. Then I got an embarrassed call from Yvonne asking for the return of their cheque. I preferred the fun of shopping like the rich not caring about the price. Needless to say I no longer have an account!

Martin knew the name of the game. This time he was the Master!

Written in the Hotel Shakespeare, Vilnius, Lithuania, 18/6/17.


Retrograph Archive - the acting website (now defunct)
Google - Fortnum and Masons
Google - Hampers at Fortnum and Mason
Picture UK sources - published 1985.

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