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Twiggy to launch M&S' 125th birthday exhibition in partnership with the University of Leeds

M&S and the University of Leeds announce today that British icon Twiggy will join M&S Chairman, Sir Stuart Rose and Vice-Chancellor Professor Michael Arthur to open M&S' 125th Birthday Exhibition.

The exhibition is a celebration of the role M&S has played in British cultural history since Michael Marks, the company's founder, opened his first stall at Leeds ' Kirkgate Market in 1884.

Developed in partnership with the University of Leeds , the exhibition will unveil highlights of the Marks & Spencer archive to the public for the first time. It will take visitors on a journey through time with a unique showcase of around 200 fashion and home products, food packaging and photographs, and company literature and advertising, some of which have never been seen publicly before.

The collection has been curated by M&S archivists and will be on show in a free public exhibition housed in the University of Leeds ' Centenary Gallery within the Parkinson building.

As the countdown to the launch commences, details of the exhibition are being revealed for the first time today. Key items include: buttons sold from the original Penny Bazaar stall, the one of the first bras which were introduced in the 1920s and quickly became one the company's trademark products, utility clothing sold during the Second World War and distinctive trends and accessories from each decade following the explosion in demand for changing fashions from the 1950s onwards.

The exhibition also tracks the introduction of the first 'convenience' foods introduced by M&S in the 1970s such as boil-in-the-bag and microwave dinners, as well as the very first Indian and Chinese ready meals brought onto the UK market.  Visitors will also see archive items such as sheet music, china tea sets and one of the earliest 'hair wavers' used to create fashionable styles.

Following the launch M&S staff will be on hand to guide visitors through the past 125 years of the company's history, alongside the University of Leeds archivists and a team of M&S store colleagues, some with over 35 years' service, to help bring the past to life.

Sir Stuart Rose, M&S Chairman said: "M&S has been at the heart of the community for 125 years and since we began life as a market stall in Leeds we have amassed a wonderful collection of products and memorabilia that offer an intriguing insight into the M&S of today.

"In this special year, we are delighted to be celebrating our Leeds roots by exhibiting part of our company archive for the first time here in the city. The University of Leeds , with its outstanding academic reputation, is the perfect partner for this collaboration."

University of Leeds Vice-Chancellor , Professor Michael Arthur, said: "Marks & Spencer has been part of our nation's cultural, social and economic life for over a century.  We are delighted to offer the opportunity to make public some of the rich detail of the company's history, and look forward to our partnership developing."

Later in June M&S is also planning to hold a roadshow at the University of Leeds for the public to showcase their own M&S memorabilia from the last 125 years. The company is hoping that people unearth a whole treasure trove of vintage M&S products tucked away in wardrobes and kitchen cupboards.

M&S and the University of Leeds are in advanced discussions about permanently relocating the entire company archive to Leeds and housing it in a purpose-built location on campus.  This unique archive - of more than 60,000 items - would be made available to staff and students for research, teaching and learning, and be fully accessible to the public for the first time whilst continuing as an important internal research facility for the M&S team.

For further information:

Please contact the University of Leeds Press Office on +44 (0)113 343 4031 or email

Notes to editors:

1.     The University of Leeds is the UK's eighth biggest research powerhouse according to the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise. It is also one of the largest higher education institutions in the UK and a member of the Russell Group of research-intensive universities. The University's vision is to secure a place among the world's top 50 by 2015.

2.     The archive exhibition is the latest addition to the University of Leeds' rich collection of cultural and artistic assets which includes the Stanley and Audrey Burton Art Gallery, the Library and Special Collections, Clothworkers' Centenary Concert Hall and a theatre complex, stage@leeds. The Refectory remains a perennial favourite with bands; and the University's ground-breaking partnership with Opera North is attracting plaudits.

3.     The M&S archive - background: The M&S archive has been deemed by independent experts as having the potential to be one of the UK's finest commercial archives. It includes clothing, toys, books, homeware and food packaging. It also offers an unrivalled insight into the company's corporate history as it includes an extensive collection of internal and external company documents.

4.     The Business Archives Council was consulted regarding M&S' Archive and arranged for Peter Scott, Professor of International Business History at the University of Reading's Henley Business School, to conduct an academic evaluation.

5.     His report rated the Archive as a collection of international importance, containing a wealth of valuable information regarding Marks & Spencer's heritage, the history of British high street fashion and food retailing.

6.     The archive is deemed to be of considerable value to scholars due to the economic and social importance of M&S - lending itself to a number of research projects from the evolution of the company, development of staff welfare programmes and financial performance through to the growth of the store network and the range and nature of products provided to a growing mass market.

7.     Historians of fashion and design will find merchandise artefacts of particular value to track the development of high street fashion. Other material lends itself to historical studies of household consumption and mass marketing through illustration of the evolving relationship between M&S and its customers, which is of considerable importance to British economic and social history.


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