A shake-up of its sub-brands, cuts to its supplier base, coats, sleeves and higher quality fabrics have all been praised as highlights of Belinda Earl’s debut collection for Marks & Spencer.
But commentators have asked whether consumers really do want quality over trends.
The high street chain revealed it would only reward “the best suppliers” and is planning to consolidate to fewer, more important suppliers that can deliver the higher quality it is now seeking. It has also reduced the womenswear collection by 10% and is focusing on M&S Collections, which according to the FT will be the centre of the new strategy.
“This will replace the core lines sold under the Marks & Spencer brand, previously known as M&S Man and M&S Woman, and reverses a key plank of the strategic plans that Mr Bolland set out two and a half years ago,” the FT wrote.
“Limited Collection, aimed at the younger shopper, is being brought within the umbrella of M&S Collections, as is the Classic range for the older shopper. Per Una, M&S’s biggest sub-brand, Autograph, the more formal collection, and Indigo, the casual-wear range that has been performing well, have all been revamped.”
As to the actual clothes, described as “classy” by Liz Jones at the Daily Mail, she adds that Earl has correctly identified the M&S’s core shopper. “Not a child, not a prostitute, not a twentysomething binge drinker, but a fabulous, fit, fiftysomething.”
She praises a gunmetal grey sequinned gown for being backless (“so men can see your skin!”) but having sleeves (“so no one, NO ONE, gets to see those bingo wings”), a wool pea coat (“for grown-ups”) and the good quality basics.
While she criticises Earl’s decision not to cull the teen label Indigo, she adds: “Belinda spent her first two months talking to women shoppers, and they told her they want quality from M&S, not bias cut gypsy skirts in crinkled linen. Let’s hope we are true to our word.”
The coats have already hit the right note with Lisa Armstrong at The Telegraph. She explains: “Next season, outerwear takes centre stage, design-wise. I’d say that where jackets and coats are concerned, M&S is definitely back in the game; all they need now is some cold weather. But even if it’s a mild winter, they’ve included some lighter weights to tempt us all.”
She also singles out more sleeves (as demanded by customers) and more elegant below-the-knee hemlines, as well as a drawstring casual dress that “bore a pleasing resemblance to the French design to Isabel Marant’s dresses”, which she says should hit the spot with the fashion editors that M&S so desperately needs to please. Weak points, however, include animal prints, pleather and cashmere that could be more luxurious.
For Jess Cartner-Morley and Sarah Butler at The Guardian, the real story is the significantly improved quality of the clothing, not the trend. “It isn’t visible at all, until you look at the inside of the clothes, and find that the overlocked seams usual on mass-produced clothing, and used by M&S until now, have been replaced by French seams in which the raw edges have been fully enclosed.”
They also praise a shift towards pieces that have been created with “wardrobe-building” in mind, and adds: “Functionality and fit are as central to the notion of quality as fabric. ‘High heel tights’, with a gel pad in the ball of the foot are a genuine lightbulb moment, while a “no-peep” white blouse with added buttons is a no-brainer. A washable silk blouse for £60, from the Autograph range, is a sound investment.”
Meanwhile independent analyst Nick Bubb echoes the frustrations of many M&S shoppers. It is all well and good creating these new ranges but if customers can’t find the garments, then it will all be in vain.
“M&S has got some good reviews from the press for its autumn womenswear range preview last night and loyal customers will be encouraged to have a look at the end of July when the new fashions are launched, but whether they will be able to find the ranges in the stores is another matter and history would teach us to be sceptical,” he said.