Fashion is important at Marks & Spencer. Clothing is an emotional purchase, and when M&S successfully delivers clothing that its customers want, it’s a strong sign that the retailer is on the right wavelength. Food may be a much bigger part of the business these days, but fashion is the most important.
Last year’s strong sales figures, which M&S revealed on Wednesday, were driven not only by under-the-radar under-the-radar fundamentals in underwear and T-shirts, but also in the denim and dress fashion categories.
The Sienna straight leg stretch jeans, which retail for £22.50, are a current bestseller and show how the store has gained confidence in delivering jeans that meet modern style without veering too far into fashion trends. Sienna jeans sit just below the natural waistline and are fitted through the hips, but are released from just above the knee to the ankle for a more modern look than a skinny jean without being difficult to wear. Sizes are inclusive (6-24) and well thought out (jeans and pants come in five lengths).
Some of the best daywear at the moment can be found on the M&S shop floor. The Floral Midaxi Tea Dress features a simple high neckline, fitted bodice and sleeves with puffed elbow length sleeves, the silhouette of the Vampire’s Wife Falconetti dress, a favorite of high-profile women from the Princess of Wales to actor Rachel. Weisz and it gives every woman a spin with a gorgeous floral print. Meanwhile, a midi dress with rich linen buttons, in shades of terracotta or dark green, might tempt minimalist Cos shoppers to experiment with M&S. Both these dresses cost £39.50, which M&S has rated as the price sweet spot; expensive enough not to be presented as a throwaway, no-holds-barred impulse buy.
The demise of Gap and Topshop has given M&S an opportunity to win over consumers who are interested in fashion, but who are more comfortable shopping with an established brand than small Instagram-based labels that now dress online-only Generation-Z of many buyers. . The growing trend of brands charging for returns makes shoppers value stores where sizing is reliable. The confidence that a size 12 garment will fit the same size on the shop floor, which is absolutely not a given in many high street stores, is M&S’s unglamorous but extremely sensible advantage that makes it a winner.
Another part of this story is luck. The style zeitgeist has moved in a direction that suits M&S. After several consecutive catwalk seasons in which thongs, shirts and well-cut pants became the standout hits of Milan and Paris fashion weeks, it’s clear that fashion has moved away from the carousel of rapid-fire trends and settled into the groove of timeless classics. and underestimated separates. Linen, the classic fabric that has always been an M&S staple, is back in fashion. (Cate Blanchett even wore a linen top and matching floor-length skirt on the red carpet at the Critic’s Choice Awards earlier this year.)
There is still a perception gap that M&S needs to bridge. When I recently complimented a fashion friend on her raw-sleeve oatmeal linen blazer, she showed me the M&S tag with a ‘who knew’ note. raised eyebrow. It is currently available for £59. I wouldn’t bet against it selling.
By Jess Cartner-Morley