Style Obituary: Paul’s Boutique. For A Hot Minute Being On Trend Allowed Us To Dream

Designed by Meg O'Donnell
Welcome to Style Obituary, in which we look back affectionately on beloved brands of the '90s and '00s and wonder: 'What the hell were we thinking?'
It was Christmas 2008. In a circle, my girlfriends and I passed round our gifts to each other. It was the same year we’d all got our first jobs — at a fish and chip shop, receptionist at the local gym, waiting tables at the stunning brutalist Holiday Inn right by the motorway exit — and we’d decided to go all fucking out. We said we’d spend £50 each on everyone, and there were four of us in total.
Being the resourceful little babes we were, we all pooled together funds to buy each other an even bigger present. Of course back then we weren’t aware of the level of global disaster such intense capitalism would lead us to, but we were young, dumb and I was full of cum, so it simply didn’t matter.
Gift one, for my friend Beth — opened through tears and snot — was a Tiffany Love Heart Bracelet. Gorj. Gift two, pour moi — a stunning pair of real choc brown Uggs. I heaved. Gift three, Beyoncé tickets for Gemma. We all did the "Single Ladies" ring dance, through a slightly tense air in the room because we’d used her budget to buy ourselves tickets, too.
And then. The mother lode. Gift four.
A trip to Manchester, a fight in Selfridges, a swift drive home in my mate’s souped-up turquoise Corsa which had England flags flapping off the windows, a whole Happy Hardcore CD and a giant cardboard box — literally the size of my London flat — later, and Sara received something she’d always dreamed of (since it came into fashion, like, a year earlier): a cornflower blue, pleather, oversized Paul’s Boutique bag with chunky handles, large neon scarf tied round one of the buckles and an optically overwhelming repeat cream PB monogram across the entirety of this masterpiece. It was a thing of beauty. Of true craftsmanship and utter, distilled, unbridled elegance.
Until then we had no idea what celebrity truly meant. Sure, we’d seen these bags thrust on the arms of our heroes: Cher Lloyd, Amelia Lily, other totally forgotten X Factor slebs who we both worshipped and went to see in concert and yelled at from our seats in the MEN like our lives depended on it. And they did.
But with Sara’s I Heart PB bag in tow, we became the talk of the town. Throw in Beth’s Tiffany and my Uggs and we were styled to perfection, like Gals Aloud — the Girls Aloud cover band who tore up the Blackpool strip once a month — on their day off.
Any table at any restaurant was ours: we swanned into Bella Italia, bag near breaking a limp wrist, and a table was instantly ready; we barged into our local fish and chip shop and were served within minutes; we drove through McDonald’s drive through for our nightly DiDi (Diet Coke) and cheeseburger and displayed our PB bag on the dashboard for all to see. We were posh now. We were Paul’s Girls. And we never had to wait in parking bay one for a cheeseburger with no onions. We had cracked the code, joined the Illuminati — all it took to gain entry was Paul’s monogrammed, fake leather seal of approval.
Our star continued to rise to heights anew. We went out in Manchester, stowed litres of vodka in Sara’s PB as we ascended in the luxury lift to our luxury apart-hotel, curlers in our hair from the second we woke up. It was glamour, it was fashion, it was so close to the stardom we’d always dreamed of.
Until it wasn’t. Quicker than we could say "queue jump at Revs" everything crashed and burned. Paul’s Boutique was no longer chic and neither were we. Instead we were has-beens, chewed up and spat out by the Big Trend machine, as we wiped our salty tears on the scarf that came tied to the bag and queued up for the next drop of All Saints Drop Crotch pants that none of us could afford after our big Christmas expenditure of '08.
Paul was gone, stowed in the attic and never spoken of again. But while it lasted it was glorious, the closest any of us regional gals ever got to designer gear. And while capitalism is a nightmare, and fashion is something so ghastly and irresponsible, for a hot minute being On Trend allowed us to dream.

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