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M&S takes notes from the catwalk

The spring 11 offer at Marks & Spencer references the 1970s and boho trends. But as a repositioning of its sub-brands looms, M&S must have more confidence in its own designs

Marks & Spencer unveiled its spring 11 collection last week, and drew heavily on the spring 11 catwalks for inspiration in what is perhaps the last chance to see the M&S product offer in its current guise.

New M&S chief executive Marc Bolland said earlier this month that M&S will axe 45-plus womenswear sub-brand Portfolio and aimed to “clarify the position” of the retailer’s other sub-brands by appointing dedicated brand managers for each one. It will be crucial that the sub-brands team continues to plan and work together to ensure they don’t overlap and compete for customers.

As Drapers went to press, it was unclear when Portfolio would be culled or when the effect of Bolland’s other changes would filter through to the shopfloor. But it still felt strange that M&S continued to merchandise its press shows by trend story rather than by sub-brand.

M&S traditionally does this to show how customers can buy across ranges and, for example, mix a trend-led top by Limited Collection with Per Una jeans to build up an outfit.

But if Bolland’s strategic changes are necessary and each sub-brand needs to offer a unique proposition targeted at a specific demographic - each sub-brand would benefit from being clearly defined at preview stage. Let’s face it, the Limited Collection shopper is unlikely to buy into Per Una as well.

For spring 11, M&S draws on the international spring 11 catwalks, with sleek satin 1970s silhouettes in jewel tones referencing Gucci, and a carnival-esque boho story looking to Marc Jacobs and D&G. The result is a collection that is both commercial and hits the mark trend-wise - although some interpretations are a bit too literal, and harder to wear for the core M&S shopper.

Literal interpretations also do nothing to differentiate M&S’s sub-brands from value chains. M&S needs to grow in confidence and, rather than borrowing themes from international designers so literally, allow its talented design team to follow trends, yes, but to make sure this retailer can eventually find its own handwriting.

M&S’s customers will not know what its sub-brands stand for until the retailer does itself.

Womenswear

1970S AND ORIENTALISM

Sleek, satin Halston-esque maxi dresses in rich jewel tones fell loosely with pleat details and injected glamour, while fluid, harem-style trousers in cobalt-blue satin added a refined simplicity to this 1970s, Gucci-inspired story. This polished look will appeal to younger Limited Collection customers. The fabrication and finish allows M&S to show off its reputation for quality. Louis Vuitton showed stunning Japanese geisha girls on his spring 11 catwalk, and M&S has translated this into Oriental botanical prints on maxi dresses and given tops a touch of the kimono with loose, wide sleeves and wraparound silhouettes. A very commercial silhouette.

THE NEW BOHO

1970s silhouettes have dominated many high street retailers’ spring 11 offers, and M&S has taken such themes, shown by the likes of Marc Jacobs and D&G, and interpreted D&G’s floral maxis to give the boho trend a 2000s shake-up. Maxi dresses feature heavily here and the till-ringing category has been updated with a fuller skirt, achieved by adding pleats and billowing folds, a shape also seen in Jil Sander’s spring 11 collection. Long flowing maxis are teamed with grungy knits and feel fresh, while kick-flare jeans and pussy-bow blouses offer commercial, wearable day options for the Per Una customer.

Minimal and RivIera

Perhaps the most directional element in M&S’s womenswear offer is a clean and crisp Céline-inspired effort, which, when worn top to toe, is perhaps a bit bland for the average shopper. M&S sells white well, but an all-over look could prove too much for many of its shoppers. However, these pieces are accomplished in cut and have strong details such as off-centre front buttons, welt pockets and draped crêpe folds. Elsewhere, M&S looks to the 1950s with a Coney Island story. Prada-style stripes of varied width punctuate tea dresses and skirts - a clever way of moving on the perennial nautical trend.

Menswear

The M&S menswear offer for spring 11 is quite disappointing in that it fails to offer anything really new. An ice cream/sorbet palette takes it in a slightly different direction but isn’t customer appropriate. Pale, feminine colours are a bit too continental for the M&S man. A Heritage fabric-led theme is billed as a 1970s story but fails to reference the era in any obvious way. Tweed jackets are twinned with chino trousers and denim shorts sit on the knee. A safari story with baggy canvas sports jacket stands out, as do mini-dogtooth blazers and contemporary, striped piqué polo shorts. The Limited Collection suiting range is being rolled out to more stores as M&S continues to target younger, more trend-led shoppers.

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