The high street behemoth unveiled its latest collection amid difficult circumstances for the retail industry. Will it be enough to warm up its sales?
On-trend, puffed-sleeve prairie dresses, a stand-out gingham skirt and a dose of double denim are what Marks & Spencer hopes it customers will be wearing this summer.
The brand is undoubtedly hoping that the collection – full of easy-to-wear pieces such as lightweight dresses, a pull-on-and-go jumpsuit and relaxed tailoring – will help to offset its latest fall in sales.
The most recent figures published in January showed a 1.7% drop in like-for-like clothing and home sales in shops open for more than a year.
The retailer had to cancel its preview on 17 March, and unveil its latest collection via email and a virtual tour, because of restrictions on unnecessary contact during the coronavirus outbreak.
M&S is the market leader in denim – it says it sells 15 pairs every minute – and it is playing to its strengths to bolster sales. The range features a new jogging bottom-shaped jean, as well as relaxed culottes and a chambray shirt in denim.
Tiered prairie dresses have been inspired by recent cinema hit Little Women, says the retailer’s womenswear head of design Lisa Illis. Design details such as midi hemlines and loose shapes will ensure the trend-inspired styles will not alienate the M&S customer.
A pale yellow, relaxed-fit gingham suit is another stand-out item.
Last summer M&S hired former Topshop fashion director Maddy Evans as head of buying. She highlights two printed “Holly dresses” in its summer campaign that launches in April that would be “perfect for any spring or summer occasion”.
TV presenter Holly Willoughby features in the campaign alongside actress Vicky McClure. Product promoted by Willoughby includes a pale pink and white polka dot midi shirt dress, and floral midi-skirt that will undoubtedly be summer hits.
Evans says M&S’s Per Una range continues to be successful, following a “mini-refresh” for autumn 19 with linen and basics that “the customer is loving at the moment”.
A fall in sales over Christmas was partly attributed to menswear buying errors: stocking too many modern-cut slim and skinny trouser styles, and not enough of its regular shapes.
A spokesperson told Drapers earlier this year that the issue had been rectified. True to its word, M&S’s summer product does include a combination of skinny-cut shapes alongside regular styles in its menswear offer.
There are Hawaiian-printed shirts for M&S’s more daring menswear shopper, alongside neutrals and wardrobe staples for the customer base that plays it safer – which should help to avoid further fallout.
Meanwhile, the womenswear collection is full of reliable pieces that should form staple pieces in existing customers’ wardrobes.
M&S is attempting to appeal to its customer base with wearable shapes, while attracting a younger marker with trends such as prairie in womenswear, and tropical prints in its menswear offer.
However, it is likely to be a very difficult summer season for all fashion retailers, including M&S. Given current travel bans and advice to restrict non-essential social contact, neither women’s nor men’s wear customers are likely to be shopping for a summer holiday. Whether M&S’s summer collection will be the ray of sunshine shoppers need is still yet to be seen.