Marks & Spencer is bringing catwalk looks to style-loving women of all ages – and making it wearable. Stephanie Smith picks out key pieces.
Spotting the next M&S It piece is becoming a national sport almost as entertaining as moaning about its fashion or joining the crush to grab at least one £10 meal deal before all the best mains and half-decent plonk have run out.
Fortunately, last week’s London launch of Marks & Spencer’s spring/summer ‘16 collections provided plenty of possibilities for declaring “It piece”, especially if you like olive green leather, offering a V-neck tunic dress at £299 and a perhaps more wearable and rather chic wrap-style leather skirt with D-ring buckle, for £199. I had to touch them, of course, and can confirm that this is not just leather, this is beautifully soft and supple M&S leather, so these pieces will feel wonderful on (because no one wants to sit down in stiff, thick leather, no matter how stunning the skirt in question).
The tunic and skirt were part of a theme that M&S is calling Modern Utility, which features a clean but sculpted silhouette – witness the white blouse with sleeves that gently flare, kimono-style, out to the wrist – and pared-back detailing in luxe, tactile textures and an earthy palette of chestnut and warm khaki, with creamy white and flashes of ochre. In all honesty, it’s perfect, offering statement looks and key pieces with the all-important wearability factor. A £299 brown suede Autograph edge-to-edge coat reminds of Alexa Chung’s ‘70s-style suede It piece skirt, but I’ve got my eye on that olive leather D-ring skirt, and also a sheeny ivory wrap M&S Collection skirt. I’ll have to wait until May, however.
Other themes coming in to tempt the picky M&S shopper next spring include In the Fold, a sleek, contemporary, tailored look in a palette of cool neutrals with a touch of metallic shine; Soft Focus, blush and cream tones in lace, mesh and soft, wafty fabrics; Retro Remix, with stripes and chevrons in luxe jacquards, chiffons and sheen, and Luxe Traveller, with a ‘70s-style maxi in red and a tiered skirt in a stunning teal, pale orange and black floral pattern (another It Piece?).
By keeping it simple, Marks & Spencer seems pinning its hopes on quality and elegance to halt the decline of its clothing sales and win back the M&S fashion shopper, following another fall in sales reported earlier this month.
The trends follow from the catwalks, with luxe Seventies, soft pink and white mesh, suede, sheeny fabrics and Spanish-inspired styles all represented, but it’s thoughtfully done, a considered edit, appealing to the style-conscious woman who is looking for pieces that look expensive, in quality fabrics with subtle design detail, in beautifully crafted shapes that she can actually wear. There’s nothing to frighten even the most traditional M&S customer here (see how wearable those espadrille pumps are), but there is much that should attract the attention of women of all ages who are looking for key pieces that offer far more in terms of style, design, detail and quality than you can find from much of the High Street, certainly for the price.
With this collection, M&S shows that it is possible to tread that tricky line between “too young and fashionable” and “too old and fuddy-duddy”. Provided it can follow through by showing the fashion shopper in store how to find the pieces easily and style the looks for herself, this is a range that deserves to do very well indeed.