Fashion: Is it top Marks?

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As Marks & Spencer’s all-important autumn/winter ranges preview, Stephanie Smith asks if the tide has turned for the High Street giant.

Luxury, quality and modern design are the defining standards upon which Marks & Spencer is pinning all its hopes for its autumn/winter womenswear collections, unveiled last week in London.

Under style director Belinda Earl, there’s a strategy of better quality and more on-trend designs, to appeal both to its core 45-plus customer and younger shoppers.

So, for the coming autumn, we find a luxurious but gently purist take, with minimalist silhouettes against a stripped-back colour palette featuring soft blue, pink and cream (unusual for winter), grey and russet, and an arty injection of saturated red and black.

M&S has picked out key themes with illuminating names: “Simple Luxe” brings soft, sophisticated tailoring with a subtle masculine feel.

“Downtown” has vibrant pastels with textured metallics for a mod-esque mood. Here are blush tones and cornflower blue, jacquard and high shine layers for a modern edge. Treading a now well-worn path of a previous collection’s infamously much-promoted yet lesser-spotted pink duster coat, there is a soft pink Limited Edition double-breasted coat to appease.

“Gentle Woman” offers cashmere and wool layers in powder pastels, with printed silks and colourful faux fur – a modern, lady-like direction.

“Modernist” brings minimal separates punctuated by block colour and print, with updated sculptural shapes.

“The Arts” features drama and texture, with decadent embellishment and moody blooms meeting blanket checks and faux fur.

And how will the M&S customer like it? Well, in this selected-for-press edit, it all looks sumptuously enticing, lust-worthy and coherent, although there seems to be something odd going on with the trousers, some of which are cropped (chilly), or look quite loose, and I’m not sure how the Aladdin-style balloon bottom trousers will work in practice. In fact, some of the proportions, in terms of how the outfits have been styled together, look hard to pull off with elegance on normal height women, let alone short. There are lots of long, capacious coats over loose trousers and long skirts – fine if you are tall, but rather swamping if under 5ft 5in.

However, overall, it seems suitably current and wearable, with several must-haves.

There are signs that M&S is turning the tide. Last month it posted its best quarterly performance in clothing for three years, with sales up 0.6 per cent. It’s too soon to say whether or not the slightly scary Leading Ladies campaign, this time featuring Emma Thompson and Annie Lennox, is a boost to sales, but the company has spent heavily on redesigning stores and on its internet platform to compete with faster-growing rivals, especially Next, which appears to be seducing away M&S target shoppers.

Come autumn, I suspect I’ll pop into M&S for more than just a Dine-in for £10.

Brow guru Shavata, left, at Harvey Nichols Leeds last week with the Laura Moore and her new defining brows.

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