Marks & Spencer: The simple new rules (and the new ‘It’ coat)

Military style jacket, red stripe trousers and cowlneck blouse
Military style jacket, red stripe trousers and cowlneck blouse
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As floor space shrinks, Marks & Spencer brings pared-back luxury to its all-important new collections. Stephanie Smith reports.

Maybe it’s the Markle effect. A roomy, double-breasted coat in oversized Prince of Wales check – looking for all the world as if it has been plucked from the luxe winter wardrobe of the new Duchess of Sussex – is set to become the all-important “It” piece of Marks & Spencer’s autumn/winter collections.

ACCENT COLOUR: Green croc effect bag, �35, M&S Collection.

ACCENT COLOUR: Green croc effect bag, �35, M&S Collection.

Costing a reasonable £99, this is the item that fashionistas have been cooing over on their social media feeds. It’s part of M&S’s Soft Heritage collection, a sumptuous story layering caramel tones, luxurious textures and animal prints. The coat will arrive later in the season for winter, so there’s quite a wait until we see it in store and on the street, but there’s plenty more sartorial style on its way when the first AW18 ranges make their way into store from August onwards.

Unveiled to the fashion Press last week, next season’s M&S collections showed a pared-back, wearable elegance, signalling a continued move towards simple statement dressing.

A key feature look was a caramel-coloured, double-breasted, cropped-leg trouser suit (jacket, £129, trouser, £69) from Autograph. Styled with a cream blouse with a draped neckline (£29.50) and chic flat metal ring loafers, this outfit epitomised the confident and considered approach that M&S fashion design is following.

How the clothes and accessories are styled plays an increasingly important part in appealing to the High street customer, as floor space shrinks. Last month, M&S announced it was closing a third of its core clothing and home branches, a total of 100 stores by 2022.

Double breasted caramel trouser suit with white blouse and chic loafers.

Double breasted caramel trouser suit with white blouse and chic loafers.

Presenting the AW18 ranges, M&S style director Belinda Earl said that there would still be a lot of fashion sold in M&S stores, but that options would be curated. For example, a coat will be found in store offered in perhaps two key colours, with more options online (CEO Steve Rowe is aiming for a third of future sales coming from online).

All this means that fashion in store has to work hard if it is to compete with rivals such as John Lewis, which is developing its style advisory services. M&S is also looking at its staff-customer relationships (it has a Fit & Style personal styling service in some stores) and, says Earl, is considering introduced more mannequins and edited looks in store, giving the customer a helping hand and showing her how to put outfits together with seasonal flair.

The Foundation Edit is new for autumn, bringing together 12 outfit basics – or, as M&S says, “a curation of the sartorial building blocks that underpin a modern wardrobe” – from a white cotton tee (£3.50) to a £99 trench coat.

Poetic is the name of another AW18 story, bringing head-to-toe tonal looks in a palette of pinks including soft blush, rose, fuchsia and burgundy, blending faux fur, knitwear and corduroy. Sartorial, meanwhile, brings a sports luxe approach to classic tailoring, featuring cobalt and emerald, quilting, wool blends and leather.

The new It coat: 'M&S Limited Edition Prince of Wales check coat, �99.

The new It coat: 'M&S Limited Edition Prince of Wales check coat, �99.

Onyx is the evening wear collection, offering contemporary statement dresses and separates in a rich palette of teal and ochre, finished with dramatic accessories (look out for the tassel earrings).

Key pieces across the collections include a yolk-yellow floral dress with pussy-bow neck (£55), which has a rather & Other Stories feel to it; black leather Autograph joggers (£199); a selection of chunky statement knitwear; fluid pleated skirts; sequin skirts; diaphanous maxi dresses; tuxedo/sports stripe slim trousers, and comfortably chic loafers.

With clothing like-for-like sales down 1.9 per cent in the year, this is yet another important collection for M&S. Focusing on simplicity and quality might just be the key to future style success.

*The M&S AW18 collections will be coming in store and online from August.

Lilac bra top and fleck leggings.

Lilac bra top and fleck leggings.

Pussy bow yellow print M&S Collection dress, �55.

Pussy bow yellow print M&S Collection dress, �55.