“I’ve just found the future of Marks and Spencer in the past,” said model and TV presenter Alexa Chung, launching her eagerly anticipated fashion collection for Marks and Spencer, inspired by pieces she has chosen from the M&S Company Archive in Leeds.
Chung took to the tills on Wednesday to meet customers and present Archive by Alexa, the range of 31 pieces of ready-to-wear, all given the magic Alexa touch and reimagined and updated from real vintage and retro pieces she found within the extensive M&S Company Archive, which is held at the University of Leeds.
Where Alexa Chung leads, others follow. Feted for her fashion sense and considered one of Britain’s most stylish women, an M&S tan ‘70s-inspired suede skirt was hailed an “It” piece after she was snapped wearing it last year. Now the retail giant is banking on the 32-year-old’s style credentials to revive its own flagging fashion offer, following the announcement last week of another quarterly fall in clothing and home sales by 2.7 per cent. New chief executive Steve Rowe has said that increasing sales at the group’s clothing division is his number one priority.
Embarking on what the company describes as a “journey of rediscovery”, the collaboration saw Ms Chung and the M&S design team select and bring archive pieces from the 1940s to the recent Noughties back to life for 2016, using modern fabrics and processes, plus an updated colour palette, to create a contemporary womenswear collection with distinctive heritage touch.
Both the clothes and the accompanying campaign reflect the super-cool, elegant but contemporary, ever-so-slightly geeky chic of Alexa Chung herself, an image that has secured her position as a leading style icon of the decade.
“I have always had an affection for Marks & Spencer,” she said. “There was something very touching about looking back through the British fashion and social history for which M&S is synonymous”.
Key pieces include the Ada blazer, £49.50, a navy double-breasted jacket with gold buttons, very like the 1989 M&S version that inspired it, but with shoulder pads removed for a more contemporary shape. Ms Chung has already been seen wearing the Frances trench coat in luxe olive, taken from an original Fifties’ gabardine trench. These, and quirky printed pieces including the vivid paisley print Eliza dress, remastered from a Fifties’ apron, are expected to sell out quickly.
Belinda Earl, style director for Marks & Spencer, said: “Working closely alongside Alexa on this project was such an exciting way to develop a collection as it was more about rediscovery than design. We were physically able to look back through the decades and redefine the aesthetic of this collection; toying with influences from the Forties, Sixties, Eighties and even the present day; highlighting how timeless and relevant style and quality can be”.
As M&S struggles to tread the line appealing to both its traditional customers who claim it is trying too hard to set trends, and the younger customer that it needs for future success, the company is pinning hopes on a nostalgic approach.
Ms Chung sifted through garments, in-house magazines and TV adverts stored at the M&S Company Archive based at Leeds University. One of the richest retail history collections in the country, it comprises more than 70,000 items and materials charting more than 130 years of fashion and company history, dating from the original Penny Bazaar opened in Leeds Market in 1884, and includes written records, staff publications, photographs and films, garments and household products, design and advertising material among many other valued artefacts.
The Archive by Alexa supporting campaign shot by photographer Tom Craig, sees Ms Chung herself taking creative ownership of the mood and direction.
M&S chief executive Mr Rowe said: “It was a hugely insightful experience allowing Alexa full access to our Company Archive. Marks & Spencer’s history is vast and quality design has always been paramount; therefore using our expertise and classic designs and Alexa’s unique eye and approach to style, our collaboration was born. A new womenswear collection, curated by Alexa, with heritage firmly at its heart”.
This project is the first of the ‘M&S &’ series of collaborations with designers and fashion icons.
The 31 piece Archive By Alexa collection is available in 66 selected stores, internationally and online at www.marksandspencer.com
Prices range from £19.50 for the Ruth vest two pack, to £89 for the Frances trench coat.