Fashion: M&S decides the customer cannot and will not wait

Fashion shoppers at Marks & Spencer will no longer have to wait to buy next season's newest trends as the High Street giant launches a 'see now, buy now' strategy.

In a surprise move, M&S has released a pre-season collection of womenswear as an introduction to its main autumn/winter ranges, which will launch as usual in three months’ time.

The Big Easy range is available to buy now in 26 stores and online because, the company explained, it wants to place the customer “at the heart of everything we do”. It added that it was enabling the customer to shop a collection that is previewed to media simultaneously, thereby “aligning the excitement of a media event with the in store experience”.

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As the first major High Street retailer to transcend traditional fashion seasons in this way, M&S is following a trend set by Burberry, which earlier this year announced that it would no longer be showing on the catwalk specific autumn/winter and spring/summer collections which the customer would not then be able to buy for six months, and instead would show twice a year, presenting “seasonless” collections called February and September, available to buy immediately.

Social media was cited as the main reason for the change and Christopher Bailey, Burberry chief creative officer, described season-scrapping as part of a “creative process” which will continue to evolve. Tom Ford also announced that he too will show his collections in the season they are released to buy.

Last month, M&S revealed another quarterly fall in clothing and homeware sales, which dipped by 2.7​ per cent. New chief executive Steve Rowe described “fixing clothing” as his number one priority, and was reported to be reviewing the range of M&S’s fashion brands, including Classic and Per Una, as part of an overhaul of the clothing arm.

The Big Easy is a relaxed but luxurious collection of separates with loose and languid silhouettes in crisp whites, blurred prints and butterscotch leather, reflecting the contemporary lifestyle in which work and home, day and night, leisure and pleasure, all merge and blend together. The idea is that the pieces will work as standalone looks in the summer, and then layer up for the autumn months. Prices range from £12.50 for an M&S Collection vest to £249 for an Autograph leather jacket.

The range is designed to flow into the main autumn/winter ranges, and customers will still have to wait to see the other collections, named Metropolis (modern layers and tonality with subtle sports detailing), Romantic Explorer (moody blooms and khaki hues, relaxed and tactile), Eccentrics (jacquards, jewels and eclectic print), and Into the Night (velvet and dramatic lace with liquid shine), as well as the autumn lingerie and Best of British ranges.

The Big Easy preview collection follows the launch last month of Archive by Alexa, a range of 31 styles designed by model, TV presenter and social media darling Alexa Chung, inspired by her visits to the extensive M&S Company Archive, which is held at the University of Leeds. The project was the first of the ‘M&S &’ series of collaborations with cutting edge designers and fashion icons.

It seems that, on the one hand, M&S is looking towards the nostalgia of the past as it struggles to tread the line appealing to both traditional customers, who claim it is trying too hard to set trends, and the younger customer that it sorely needs for future success.

M&S is responding to a fashion revolution brought about by social media and its immediacy, the “want it now” mentality and celebrity-driven obsessions, which have made anticipation and preparation relics of the past. Shoppers now want to buy what they see immediately. Marks & Spencer clearly hopes to grab attention and boost sales by giving them what they want, when they want it.