Oh, how exhausting it is to be a fan of M&S. One minute you’re up, reveling in the glory of a truly cracking Christmas advert, next minute you’ve got a grumpier face than ‘Leading Lady’ Tracey Emin, as another slightly baffling collection is revealed.
And we’ve been doing so well, too. The autumn collection drew a few raised eyebrows from the press but in-store revealed a different story. The knits were jazzy but age-appropriate, the leather goods soft and the pink coat took off like a rocket.
It makes me somewhat wary now, to be too critical of the preview pieces. The £600 gilet everyone jumped on last season never manifested itself in any of the regional stores I visited (and since I seek out M&S wherever I go, that’s a fair few) rendering my ‘it’s all so overpriced’ argument somewhat invalid. We know now that often the most attention-baiting pieces rarely make it up the M1, so let’s not dwell too much on the £169 hot pink leather top.
There are pieces in this collection that are truly great. The tailoring, in particular, looks very strong and at £59 for the tuxedo waistcoat and £35 for the trousers, there’s no arguing on value. The £79 Limited Edition trench coat is edgy but can be buttoned back into a more mainstream look for the school-run. The footwear and handbags are a particular triumph, with block-heels and two-tone elements and some really interesting shapes.
It’s a solid move forward: the collections gels well, there’s a strong emphasis on separates which will look good in store and there’s still a lot of consideration given to the importance of flattering shapes. Generally, the prices are far less all over the place than they were last season.
But, there’s still a lot that leaves me unconvinced. There’s an awful lot of white, and I can pre-empt my mother’s eye-roll at the practicality of an all-white outfit. “You can’t put that in your basket if we’re going to the food hall” will be her likely response. And judging from the current comments on the website, M&S shoppers are nothing if not practical. “Lovely design. Great if you’re out for a big meal and don’t want anything too fitted around the waist!” says one savvy shopper commenting on a current season dress online.
With this in mind, I’m not sure how the various spring 14 crop tops will go down. Or, for that matter, the sheer panels on some of the skirts. Peep thigh, anyone? Not if you’re out for a big meal.
Best of British is a highlight this season, although the prices are very high. But, it’s better to have one specific area of focus where the more expensive pieces feature than throwing some random ones into the main collection. Menswear looks good, with some solid pieces although there’s nothing much to write home about that’s out of the ordinary. They know what they’re doing there, it seems, and they’re keeping on with it. A pop of colour here, a hint of tweed there, it was summed up by one Drapers colleague as ‘fine’.
Overall, I’d say spring is set to be an interesting one. There’ll be much discussion of it still being too ‘edgy’, but at least there’s something to talk about. The pricing has somewhat stabilised and the baffling pieces are fewer, but M&S will struggle to escape the criticism of the customer if they maintain their belief that anyone over the age of 20 wants to wear a crop top to the office.