I don’t need to tell you how bleak things are on the UK high street. Retailers are facing a perfect storm of rising business rates, spiralling wage costs and a weak pound. Compound that with the fact that 80% of British retailers import their clothes from Asia in dollars, and the rise in costs, it’s not surprising that the high street is hurting.
Everyone from Next to Jones Bootmaker are feeling the heat, and the collapse of Jaeger pretty much sums up a sad and sorrowful story.
The only people basking in the current economic climate are European rivals H&M and Zara, who received a boost from Euro-dominated revenues. It’s no coincidence that Zara boss Amancio Ortega overtook Bill Gates as the richest man in the world for two days last September.
But amidst a background of turmoil, Marks & Spencer turned a corner last season with a 2.3 percent increase in clothing sales, so things are looking more positive.
CEO Steve Rowe has gone in to the business, rolled his sleeves up and done what needed to be done. Despite opting to keep responsibility for clothing, when he was first appointed CEO last year, he has now decided to step back and appointed Jill McDonald. Previously CEO at Halfords it’s now an obvious appointment, and Jill will take responsibility for rebuilding the business.
M&S announced that she “will have overall profit-and-loss accountability for all aspects of the non-food business, from design and sourcing through to supply chain and logistics”. Jill is a lady that has her work cut out for her.
Interesting, Jo Jenkins’ role as M&S’s director of womenswear, lingerie and beauty will be expanded as clothing and beauty director, reporting to Ms McDonald. Jo is a formidable talent and is highly respected within the industry.
Not surprisingly, Belinda Earl will remain as Style Director, she has been instrumental in M&S’s reversal of fortunes and has a clear vision of where she would like women’s wear to go.
So could this be the dream team women’s wear has been looking for? Only time will tell. And where does this leave the clothing range?
Well, we all know that Steve Rowe has had his eye firmly on a ‘more mature customer’ and that his intention has been to focus on mainstream rather than high fashion. So has he accomplished that?
The AW17 collection is certainly the most accomplished that I have seen yet. I have always been a loyal M&S fan, but as the retail environment changed they lost their confidence and conviction. Looking at this new collection and speaking as a 44-year-old mum-of-two it certainly appeals to my desire for trend-led (not trendy – a word I hate) good quality, but above all STYLISH wardrobe staples.
Yes, I want to look as fashionable as the next person, but I’m not a slave to fashion and (words my 20-year-old self would never have said) I need functional clothes that I can wear on the school run, and then to work every day.
Talking about the collection Jo Jenkins explained: “The design team have kept to the same style strategy that we started before for autumn-winter. We’ve kept to the same style and colour credentials. It’s very much a journey that is evolving in response to customers, season after season.”
Anyway, you can judge for yourself, here’s a sneaky peak at the new collection, and the pieces that will be making it into my wardrobe next season.
OK, so you’re going to be bumping into me next season pretty much wearing this outfit head-to-toe. Who doesn’t need the perfect pair of navy trousers and a gorgeous knit? Effortlessly stylish, the coat says ‘yes I’ve got this’.
Autograph coat £119 , M&S Collection jumper £29.50, Autograph trousers £49.50 , bag £99, boots £79
Perfect for days when you need to pull that little bit extra out of the bag, I love the way the skirt is styled with pointed flats. Who has time for high heels on a busy work day with lots of running around to do? And the elegant coat is really flattering and looks really expensive.
Autograph Coat £99 , M&S Collection jumper £75, Per Una skirt £45 , bg £35, shoes £35
Anyone that knows me will vouch for the fact that I am obsessed with polo necks but they need to be right cut. Too tight and your boobs look massive, too baggy and you look like you’re going for a walk in the country. This works with a pair of tailored trousers and I love the colour.
M&S Collection Jumper £35, trousers £29.50
You’re simply not going to be able to escape the trouser suit next season. It’s a massive trend and personally I love them. This is unbeatable quality and you’re going to struggle to find something to compete with in terms of style and value elsewhere on the high street. I already have a black polo neck and brogues so I am good to go.
Autograph jacket £69 , M&S Collection Polo Neck £17.50, Autograph trouser £39.50 , shoes £55
I love every element, but personally I’d wear the camel trousers and polo neck with a navy tailored coat, or maybe the coat I already have my eyes from M&S. I’m not great in heels, but I’d make an exception. And M&S do the comfy Insolia soles, so I really don’t have anything to worry about.
M&S Collection coat £79 , M&S Collection polo neck £79, M&S Collection trousers £39.50, bag £35, shoes £59
It reminds me of a Burberry dress I lusted after last winter. Personally the belt isn’t going to work on me, I don’t go in at the middle. But I love this look – long sleeves + midi-length = perfect.