Beloved by the 00s WAGs, the store brought a slice of Parisian luxury to Liverpool with its ‘nice clothes that cost loads’
In the thick of the 2000s peak-WAG tabloid frenzy, barely a day went by without the wives and girlfriends of the Premier League’s elite weren’t plastered across the red tops. For Merseyside darlings Coleen Rooney, Alex Gerrard, and Abbey Clancy, pap shots out and about on Liverpool’s cobbles usually came accompanied by a nice bit of arm candy. No, not their footballer fellas, but a hot pink, zebra or leopard-print shopping bag from independent luxury boutique, Cricket.
“I kind of fell into it,” says co-founder Justine Mills of the store’s beginnings. She was a teenager working weekends in a neighbouring clothing store when in 1991, her partner, Gerry Mannix, offered her the chance to open a menswear boutique with him on Matthew Street. “I felt like I’d found my calling because I’d always loved clothes, but I never thought of it as a career until that point.” At 19, with little buying experience from her previous job, the world of luxury was alien for Mills, who comes from a working-class family.
“I remember stocking Stella McCartney’s second season at Chloé,” she says, as Cricket slowly began branching into womenswear four years in, catalysed by Mills wanting to fill her own wardrobe up with “nice clothes that cost loads”. “That was my first fashion show in Paris. I turned up on my own, I didn’t know where you went, who were you meant to see. I ended up standing with all the students when I had a seat. I was just so grateful to be there.”
While competing store Wade Smith had the monopoly on the big Italian labels, it was Cricket who brought French fashion into the city. It was also an early supporter of some of the biggest luxury players today, from Christian Louboutin “the first season we bought it, you could decide if you wanted a red sole or not”) to Lanvin, Nicholas Ghesquirè’s Balenciaga, and a fresh-faced Riccardo Tisci when he was just starting out at Givenchy. “People finally realised that luxury could be sold in the north through what we do,” says Mills, with Selfridges and Harvey Nichols following suit and opening stores in Manchester in 2002 and 2003, respectively. “They saw there was an appetite for this type of clothing outside of London. Before, people must’ve thought we all wore tweed caps and had a bit of straw hanging out our mouths.”
“People finally realised that luxury could be sold in the north through what we do. [Selfridges and Harvey Nichols] saw there was an appetite for this type of clothing outside of London. Before, people must’ve thought we all wore tweed caps and had a bit of straw hanging out our mouths” – Justine Mills
Cricket first began making national headlines in 2003, when 16-year-old Coleen McLoughlin, the new girlfriend of Wayne Rooney, was pictured in her school uniform carrying one of the store’s shopping bags. Three years later, with England playing in the 2006 World Cup, the players’ partners – or WAGS (wives-and-girlfriends), as they were anointed – were making front pages daily for their lavish shopping excursions and boozy antics. “When they were in Baden-Baden, we were sending boxes of clothes by DHL out to them because as the team were staying for longer, the wives realised they needed more stuff to wear.” Back in Liverpool, Cricket had become the most talked about shop in the country. “Every day there were paparazzi outside the shop because if it wasn’t Coleen, it was Alex Gerrard shopping with us. If it wasn’t her, it was Jennifer Ellison, Kerry Katona, and Abbey Clancy. It was fun opening the papers and seeing someone with one of our distinctive carrier bags, it put the shop on the map.”
Sandwiched between the Cavern Club and a Vivienne Westwood flagship, Cricket’s original store is best described as a treasure trove which felt more akin to walking into your cool, older sister’s wardrobe than a snooty luxury store. “There were so many colourful designer handbags everywhere, particularly from Balenciaga,” says Anya Yiapanis, founder of creative agency, Intrepid. (What is now known as the brand’s City bag was in the store’s top three best-selling items throughout the 00s) “It was a cosy and comforting environment to shop in,” she adds, “which is a rarity in fashion.”
It wasn’t unusual to find a lengthy queue trailing Cricket, especially in December, with crowds of fashion-hungry Scousers searching for a fresh Christmas day rig-out. “I remember when we got the Chloé Paddington bags in, we had so many people waiting for them I just wrote down their names, called them up and said, ‘You can have a black one, or you can have a tan one’, they didn’t even get a choice!” A similar frenzy surrounded Juicy Couture and Balenciaga’s Arena and Race Runner trainers. “When we’d get a delivery to the shop, it was like they could smell it out. People would be outside the store before the news got put out. It would be manic.”
“The girl in Liverpool is unafraid to experiment with shape and silhouette and they don’t care if they get criticised, they go out and have fun, and if they get it wrong, there’s next weekend to try again” – Justine Mills
The press has spent years ridiculing Scouse style, with Aintree Racecourse’s Ladies Day, in particular, becoming a hateful Daily Mail fixture year after year. “It’s often Northern journalists who’ve moved down to London and changed their accent that perpetuate those stereotypes,” says Mills. “As I’ve gotten older, I champion it, because we’re different: bring on the rollers, the Scouse brows. I’m not ashamed of it, these girls are enjoying getting dressed up.”
Mills and Mannix pride themselves on stocking “nothing vanilla”, often buying more experimental pieces, “really for people to just see what the designers are capable of. Even if the trend is too new, I think it’s important that people in Liverpool have access to see these things,” says Mills.
The pair have spent the last 32 years proving there’s more to Scouse fashion than what appears in the tabloids. “It’s such an important part of working-class life to show that you’re doing well. I don’t think brands realise how important it is to people’s lives owning these luxury pieces. The girl in Liverpool is unafraid to experiment with shape and silhouette and they don’t care if they get criticised, they go out and have fun, and if they get it wrong, there’s next weekend to try again.”
“Justine and Gerry have done an amazing job of creating a space that feels welcoming,” says director and founder of KLOSS films, Alec Maxwell, who’s been a friend of the shop for over 10 years. “When entering a luxury store, it can feel like you're not supposed to be there, or you can't afford to be there. I never felt this energy or Cricket, it’s welcoming to everybody.”
Moving to a swanky, new home inside Liverpool’s Metquartershopping centre in 2019, you’ll still find Mills and Mannix working the shop floor today. “People idolise styling, PR, that side of fashion but look down on people who work on the shop floor, but I love that part, it’s the heartbeat of the business,” says Mills. There’s a special warmth to the Cricket team that floods beyond the shop’s doors. Over the years, Mills has amassed a wealth of clients in the city, across the country and even as far out as Hong Kong, who her team communicates directly with on WhatsApp and Instagram – from the yummy mummies who lives in designer gym gear, to the girl who’s saved up all week to come and buy something for a night on the razz. (Only last year did Cricket launch an e-commerce platform, a testament to its loyal shoppers).
“I love watching people going into a fitting room, coming out, and seeing their face light as they feel good in something they’ve put on,” says Mills, “that’s the transformative power of fashion.”
They say Liverpudlians are some of the friendliest people in the country; they’re some of the best dressed, too. It’s not easy making an entire city look the dog’s bollocks, but Cricket does it with a big dollop of Scouse pride.