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M&S autumn 13: This could mark a turning point

As one of the lone voices of support (anywhere, it has often seemed) for Marks and Spencer’s fashion offering in the past few seasons, I’ve been excited to see what their new collection will look like under Belinda Earl’s guidance.

I’m not one of the much discussed ‘core’ Marks and Spencer customers – being in my early twenties - so I’m conscious its moving away from me and back to targeting my more age-appropriate mum.

This is an entirely sensible move and, even if I may miss out on £19.99 neon printed jeans in the future, it’s what Belinda Earl has promised to do.

Looking at M&S’ autumn 13 offer, each sub-brand seem far more unified this season than they have previously. Last season, the same trends were presented across each different category – Autograph, Limited Collection, Indigo, etc – meaning the unveiling for the press back in November looked impressive, with trends like monochrome, floral and metallic covered across different age ranges and styles.

However, as Drapers predicted, when spring 13 hit the stores, the trends were then diluted back into their separate brand divisions, leaving the offer looking confused, as each sub-brand was proven to be trying to cover too much.

Quality has been improved across the board, which is particularly notable in outerwear where leather and wool-blend coats have been added to the renamed M&S Collection, offering what they call “affordable luxury”.

Elsewhere, their machine-washable cashmere has increased in weight by 9%, and is priced around the £65 mark, which is undeniably competitive.

However, in terms of price, ‘hero’ pieces have jumped up a few levels, with an Autograph coat for £349 seeming comparatively off the mark, not to mention a lambswool gilet for £600.

This move into Jaeger and Reiss territory will be interesting to see played out in the long-term, but it prompts questions - will the same shopper seeking £3 knickers spend £600 on a gilet?

But it’s the design which will really get people talking (as though they haven’t been already). The over-arching view of the new collection is that there is a far more grown-up angle. The colours are dark and dramatic and the cuts sharp and tailored.

Autograph in particular stands out, despite the price increase. Think longer sleeves and longer skirts, in deep berries and soft greys, with a dramatic metallic evening gown for £119 sure to be a hit in party season.

Indigo looks pretty much the same, although that has always seemed the least controversial of the collections, with an offer consisting predominantly of denim pieces and khaki jackets. Limited Collection remains the most fashion-forward of the bunch, with brighter colours (although less of the garishness we’ve seen before). Some of the leopard print pieces and leather-look leggings will no doubt raise M&S purists’ eyebrows, but hey, at least Earl has left something for the twenty-somethings, without over-doing it.

Overall, it’s clear Belinda Earl has, as promised, listened to customer feedback and, provided the collections make it into stores, this could mark a turning point. It’s not too radical yet, but there’s enough in the new collection to suggest change is coming, and that can only be a good thing, right?

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