Presenting its all-important autumn/winter ‘15 fashion collections to the press today, the retail giant demonstrated an impressively bold yet savvy and customer-sensitive fashion touch, as it goes all out to capitalise on recent encouraging sales figures.
M&S appears to be realising that, in today’s social media driven fashion world, it’s all about the buzz. Although not officially launched until May 14, the Autograph collection 1970s-style brown suede pencil skirt (which costs £199) was released to selected stores early last month and has been heralded the No 1 most-wanted fashion item for summer. It began to trend on blogs and fashion pages back in February, when it was snapped on model Alexa Chung and American socialite Olivia Palermo. More than 3,500 customers have registered for the skirt and M&S is bringing in five times the quantity that it originally planned.
So the buzz seems to be working. Last month Marks & Spencer reported that, after almost four years of decline, clothing sales had finally risen, with like-for-like sales in general merchandise, which includes womenswear, up 0.7 per cent in the 13 weeks to March 28. This is evidence that the influence of style director Belinda Earl - former boss of Debenhams and Jaeger, brought in by M&S chief executive Marc Bolland in 2012 - is finally reaping rewards.
This upturn in M&S fashion fortunes hasn’t come a moment too soon, following 14 consecutive quarters in which the company’s sales of clothing, footwear and homewares declined amid complaints about the fashions being first too frumpy, then too “out-there”, while store interiors were deemed uninspiring and the website not fit for purpose.
M&S has become adept at enticing the fashion media with “hero” pieces, although it has admitted to deliberately limiting the availability of some of its most sought-after items to keep the hype going, with Bolland pointing out in November 2013: “You do not want 40,000 of the same coats walking around.”
So, what are the potential hero pieces for autumn 2015. Take your pick. In the clean-lined Modern Muse collection, there’s that striking coral and cream double-breasted Per Una Speziale coat (£159) plus a very cool snake print pencil skirt (£69). The Elegant Bohemia story features a boho crafted printed smock dress (£49.50) to wear with knee-high Seventies style boots (£99), while Entwined brings luxurious ribbed cable cream knitwear and the sultry evening wear Noir story features a rather fabulous sequin bomber (£89).
My money is on the Twiggy collection pilgrim style maxi dress (£59) - understated edgy elegance, if ever I saw it.
The Marks & Spencer autumn/winter collections launch in store in September. And whatever the new It piece turns out to be, M&S is determined to keep the buzz going.