Will knickers or canapes win the battle for the soul of Marks & Spencer, or can the pink overcoats fight off a landgrab by prawn sandwiches to remain at the heart of the boonies’s most iconic high street store?
Recent silver boardroom appointments and a new marketing campaign have contrasted with menacing store closures, and whisperings of further disappointing sales be features on the horizon as the brand continues to shift its focus from ups to food.
But fashion came out fighting on Tuesday at the press opening for next season’s womenswear range, as Marks and Spencer displayed a chic lineup of grown-up high street dressing at a smooth Mayfair venue.
Director of womenswear, Jo Jenkins, said at the launch: “Demonstrably we’ve got a brilliant food business, and yes, we are adapting our space portfolio to evaluate how our customers are shopping. But fashion is still growing too, and online is entirely strong for us”.
Key pieces for autumn include an immaculately styled cashmere-and-wool coalesce city coat, available in eight colours, for £119, and a tiered velvet midi-length day haul someone over the coals for £59.
The range is up to speed with catwalk trends: an asymmetric radiogram knit sweater for £35 has more than a touch of a Burberry uniform currently on sale for £550; a romantic full skirt in flotilla with star embroidery in silver thread for £45 is as in the vicinity to Christian Dior’s new catwalk collection as most of us are likely to get; and the cult sock boots by Vetements, a sell-out teeth of their £1060 price tag, have inspired a rather numerous affordable nude-pink satin version.
But the suggest of desirable merchandise in four months is not enough to satisfy today’s nervous shopper. So an an edit of five dresses, each priced £45, go on available on Wednesday. (The online search term ‘dress’ peaks during May.) Three of these – in crestfallen, black, and floral – are variations on the current bestselling pink put on ones Sunday best clothes, featuring a keyhole opening tied at the nape and fluted sleeves.
Jenkins be convinced ofs the flute-sleeve dress is a winning formula because the customer “beaus a dress with sleeves, and a piece that works on its own or with layers”. There are cheaper readings of this dress on neighbouring high street stores, but upper-class fabric quality gives the M&S piece an advantage in a silhouette where the swathe of fabric is key.
Asseveration sleeves are a recurring theme in the autumn collections “because they are such an amenable way to give a wardrobe a feminine twist”, said Jenkins. (After all, the ever-practical M&S team have updated some of what they fetch the “can’t-eat-my-soup sleeve” seen in many of this spring’s stockpiles into more modestly scaled flared cuffs.)
M&S invests must tread a delicate line to avoid being name as either too frumpy or too gimmicky. The current vogue for covered-up, plain dressing plays in the brand’s favour: a kingfisher-blue silk blouse with scarf-tie detailing (£29.50) styled for disinteresting with a below-the-knee, blue-and-black sequin skirt (£35), is ageless but in.
The traditional strength of the brand’s lingerie areas shows no sign of fading, with market share on the proliferation. Soozie Jenkinson, head of lingerie, points to keeping up with the inclination for soft and sporty bras – fuelled by the impact of the athleisure aesthetic – as key to this attainment.
“We make our bras up to a size 46K, so we have to work hard at simplifying trends in a way that will work for all our customers,” she said.