When Marks & Spencer first unveiled its autumn 13 collection back in May, it was clear what direction the retailer was travelling.
The focus on quality could not have been pushed harder, with statements about the increased weight of its fabric, innovative details such as cushioned soles on tights and an increase in the amount of investment pieces.
The clothes themselves impressed M&S’ critics but the consensus suggested that this was only one part of the jigsaw. It was, as one analyst said, “easy to make a collection look good in a showroom but hard to make it stand out in stores”.
M&S’ store environment has held it back with the launch of previous collections, and analysts warned it could damage the impact of autumn 13 – the make-or-break collection as Marc Bolland passes his third anniversary at M&S’ helm.
So the proof of this pudding was always going to be very much in the eating, and this week’s soft-launch, into M&S’ flagship Marble Arch store, offered a taster of what we can expect to see rolled out nationwide.
So has the team listened to their critics?
If Marble Arch is anything to go by M&S has certainly made a start in the right direction. The sub-brands are clearly demarcated and there is space to move around without constantly bumping into other rails. Categories such as “casual tops”, “the cashmere collection” or “the denim edit” are also clearly visible.
But rail density still seems excessive. I counted 29 versions of the same pair of trousers available, with around eight items in any one size.
This was not an isolated instance, and appeared to run across M&S’ entire range, from the pricier branded side, through to the quality cashmere offer and into the coats section.
The store itself, also, continues to underwhelm – and this is the best in M&S’ arsenal, where the newly-landed collection must (and will) look its best.
It’s evident that, in Marble Arch at least, the team has attempted to move away from the jumble sale approach but if its jewel in the crown still fails to excite, it begs the question how autumn 13 will translate further afield.
In the next week, as the collection is rolled out, I plan to visit more stores to see how they compare.
Wherever you in the UK, we’d love to know your thoughts too.