As Marks & Spencer previews its all-important spring collections, Stephanie Smith gives her verdict on the new direction.
You can’t always get what you want. We know that now. Marks & Spencer has been trying to give British shoppers exactly what they want for what feels like a zillion fashion seasons, and still they fail to be overly impressed.
M&S interprets the runway fashion trends on behalf of its customers, and provides carefully designed, well-made collections of clothing and accessories, so that we can all look contemporary, flattered and stylish, feel comfortable, and don’t have to spend lots of time and money achieving all this.
This appears to be what the typical M&S shopper wants, after all. The retail giant held focus groups consisting of customers, and the results will be seen in the spring/summer 2017 collections, launched last week and dropping in February. Three groups of 40 women asked for on-trend pieces, a seasonal colour palette, easy layers, natural fibres, feminine details, refined fits and accessories to go with every outfit.
The result is a considered, effortless collection of floaty dresses, with feminine ruching and bows, separates in rich, earthy hues, soft denim pieces and all manner of striking but easy skirts.
Statement sleeves are a major feature – the M&S shopper adores sleeves – with bell shapes, volume influences and gathering details all offering wearable, modern silhouettes.
In keeping with the emerging trend to give shoppers a buy-now option from future collections, there are shoes, bags and jewellery on offer to snap up straightaway, including a flower-embroidered handbag and Miu Miu-esque ballet flats.
There’s plenty of leisure wear too, with bra tops, hoodies and chic performance leggings to meet the increasing need for clothes that you can wear at home and weekends, as well as to the gym.
The collections start making their way into stores in January, beginning with the earthy toned, easy-layer pieces. The way in which M&S has named its collections for spring/summer 2017 in itself speaks much about the direction it is taking: Earth; Simply Elevated; Craftwork; Havana; and the Event Edit.
As for lingerie, there will be the promising sounding Youthful Lift bra, at £25, to accompany high-waisted Shapewear knickers at £28.
All this is set against a backdrop of store closures, with the company announcing recently that it is shutting 30 UK branches and converting 45 more into food-only shops, cutting space currently devoted to fashion, as part of a shake-up which it is hoped will put an end to the long-running slump in clothing sales.
Sadly, this will restrict opportunities to shop in the flesh, so to speak, although M&S is devoting energy to its online offer, so if you know how to e-tail, you’ll be fine.
The Indigo and Collezione lines will also be discontinued, to concentrate on ranges M&S believes are more relevant to its shoppers – Autograph and Per Una – and there will be more attention paid to the 50-plus woman and a less slavish pursuit of catwalk trends, following complaints that it is failing to meet the needs of its middle-aged customer base, for example, with the Archive by Alexa collection.
Well, as one middle-aged M&S shopper, I’d like to share my thoughts on that matter. Whether she is 50-plus or not, if the modern British shopper does not want to buy and wear thoughtfully designed, well-made clothes, offered at fair and reasonable (not dirt-cheap) prices, then the problem is hers.
Give Alexa Chung’s collection a go, I say. The boots are fabulous. And be open to some of M&S’s more directional styles. Maybe you can’t always get exactly what you want, but if you try, sometimes, you might find, you really do get what you need.