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Is Marks getting its spark back with its new range?

 

From statement suits to the 18-hour dress, M&S reinvents the classics next season. Emma McCarthy checks out the new range.

M&S and the high street shopper have seen their fair share of ups and downs. Over recent years, the veteran British retailer has tried all manner of tactics to woo us, from fashion press catnip in the shape of a pink coat and a mid-length suede skirt to high-profile collaborations designed to tempt a fresh crop of millennials through its doors.

Yet still sales have continued to fall. Following the announcement six months ago that M&S planned to close 30 stores and convert 45 more into supermarkets in a bid to slash the space devoted to clothing, the future of our long-standing love affair with M&S fashion threatened to remain on the rocks.

Next season, however, M&S seems more determined than ever to make a fresh start. The signs are certainly good.

A surprise increase of 2.3% in clothing and homeware sales over Christmas following a six-year decline was the first indication that winds of change might be forecast.

Earlier this month, the company also announced the arrival of new boss Jill McDonald, who joins in the autumn as managing director of clothing, home and beauty.

As the former chief executive of Halfords, McDonald may lack fashion nous. Luckily she has a ready-made guide in the form of style director Belinda Earl, who has been steadily steering the fashion ship out of dangerous waters since arriving at the brand in 2012.

McDonald's experience in customer relations also strikes a chord with the retailer's resolution to take their lead from their customers. Nowhere is this commitment more apparent than its latest collection, unveiled to the fashion press this week.

"Over the past six months we've gathered amazing customer feedback," says Jo Jenkins, director of womenswear, lingerie and beauty.

"We know she wants colour, so we've taken a confident, optimistic position with a bold palette. We know she wants timeless, seasonless staples, but which come with a modern twist. And we know she wants choice and outfit-building options, so we've made sure that the collections in the store work together."

Crucially, this means a step off the trend wagon and towards a breed of modern classics which form the building blocks of a woman's wardrobe. As the reigning bastion of the middle market, M&S's "everything to everyone" approach can risk resulting in an identity crisis in which you pick up a Bardot peasant top alongside a pair of granny pants.

When pitted against lightning-speed trend machines H&M and Zara, M&S has in the past fought too hard to gain the attention of a spoiled-for-choice 20-something crowd to the downfall of its core, sensibly-heeled customer. But age - or rather youth - is becoming less of a focus for M&S.

"Our customers don't want to be recognised by their age, but by their style," says Jenkins. In essence, M&S is settling comfortably back into what it does best.

These are clothes for perennials - for women who want their clothes to be influenced, not dictated, by trends. For any woman who has raised an eyebrow at the brand's recent attempts to convince them to buy a fluffy tangerine teddy bear coat will be relieved to see a return to well-cut trousers, pretty ruffle blouses and stand-out suiting.

To this end, M&S's autumn collection is brimming with timeless staples which remind us why, 133 years later, we still have a soft spot for M&S.

From practically perfect navy jumpers to the trench every woman should have in her wardrobe, here are the key pieces to bank on next season.

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