Belfast Telegraph

Friday 25 July 2014

These women hit the Marks!

Frances Burscough says Marks & Spencer's new advertising campaign, which includes a sex-obsessed artist and a leading lady who has never been afraid to strip for the cameras, will have shoppers flocking to its stores again

Strike a pose: new M&S models, from left, Katie Piper, Nicola Adams, Tracey Emin, Ellie Goulding, Helen Allen, Monica Ali, Grace Coddington, Dame Helen Mirren, Laura Mvula and Karen Elson
Marks & Spencer undated handout photo of (left to right) Jasmine Whitbread, Dame Helen Mirren, Darcy Bussell, Helen Allen, Karen Elson, Tracey Emin, Monica Ali, Katie Piper promoting the new fashion ranges at the high street retailer

In the world of 21st century fashion, celebrity endorsement is everything. High street stores from A/Wear to Zara have all tried and tested the idea that famous faces can sell us virtually anything, but nowhere is it done with more fuss and fanfare than at Marks & Spencer.

Indeed, the unveiling of the M&S model line-up each season is now more of an event than showing their actual collections.

All types of celebrities from all walks of life have been included in their seemingly limitless promotional budget over recent years.

Some, like Twiggy, Erin O' Connor and Marie Helvin were famous for being past fashion icons, growing old very gracefully, of course.

Others such as Dannii Minogue, Myleene Klass, Bryan Ferry and the boys from Take That started out as pop stars that refused to go away.

Then there were the celebrity spawn such as Lizzie and Georgia May Jagger, whose foot in the door of stardom was a fait accompli before they were even a twinkle in Mick's eye.

Not to mention all the over-achieving sporting stars including David Beckham and Jamie Redknapp, who were able to add M&S adverts to their long list of nice little earners.

But so far, apart from the obligatory pretty face and perfect figure, there has always been one absolute essential criterion for any famous face representing M&S – and that is a 100% immaculate image, untarnished and unsullied by controversy of any kind.

In a selection process akin to an American presidential election, if you weren't squeaky clean inside and out then you just didn't make the cut. End of story.

Which is what makes the latest line-up for their womenswear autumn/winter Collection such a pleasant surprise.

Tracy Emin (50), the highly controversial but hugely successful artist, couldn't be less like a traditional M&S poster girl if she had the F-word tattooed across her forehead.

Indeed she is shown actually scowling at the camera in all of the shoots I've seen so far. Actually, to describe her as merely "controversial" doesn't quite do her justice. She sprang to fame with a tent on which she appliqued the names of the 103 people she had slept with. She's made a career out of challenging behaviour, being lewd and crude in the worst possible taste at all times regardless of who she's with, where she is and why she's there.

To her, nothing is sacred, certainly not a good old British institution. Personally I like her. She's my kinda gal.

Grace Coddington (72) the creative director of Vogue magazine is one of the most brilliant fashion stylists alive today. However, she still manages to shock and stand out like a sore thumb amongst the fashion cognoscenti with her massive untamed mane of flame-red hair and her multi-freckled face.

Then there's Katie Piper (29), the ex-model who was disfigured in an acid attack but went on to become a role model for promoting self-confidence and self-esteem among vulnerable young women.

Karen Ellson (34) who's the only actual model per se, is undoubtedly beautiful with her striking Celtic colouring but even she is more famous for her controversial and tragic love-life than any modelling assignments she's been involved in.

For example she famously dated the junkie socialite Raphael de Rothschild before he died of a heroin overdose.

She then she went on to marry Jack White of the band The White Stripes and the pair have been in and out of the gossip columns ever since for assorted fights and fracas.

Helen Mirren (68), the thinking man's feminist crumpet of the Seventies, is now a grande-dame of drama who has never shied away from stripping for her art, should the role demand it.

She can say and do what she likes and we all still love her regardless.

Darcy Bussell (44), the actual prima donna of British ballet – who was described as deadly dull as a judge on TV's Strictly Come Dancing – is also in there, representing another area of the arts.

Others incorporated in this motley crew of role models and self-starters include Jasmine Whitbread, the Save the Children Charity campaigner and Helen Allen who was voted the Nurse of the Year.

Also featured are Nicola Adams, the Olympic Gold Medal-winning boxer; Laura Mvula, an up-and-coming soul singer who's been widely tipped to win a Brit Award next time and Monica Ali, who's an outspoken and controversial novelist.

This is an altogether different approach – a new model army of feisty females with attitude who've all done something creative, constructive, triumphant or downright different to make a name for themselves.

They're certainly not traditional model material.

Some aren't even particularly photogenic. But, guess what, as a group they look amazing and so from me, it's hats off to M&S.

The ups and downs of global success

Marks & Spencer (or "Marksies" in Northern Ireland) is the best-known fashion retailer on the high street. Founded in Leeds in 1884 by Michael Marks and Thomas Spencer, it now includes 703 stores in the UK and a further 361 across more than 40 countries worldwide. Although in 1998 it became the first British retailer to reach a pre-tax profit of over £1bn, it's been hit hard by the recession. The last eight seasons have been a flop, particularly Spring 2012 when they temporarily ditched the use of celebrities in favour of regular models, with a dramatic slump in sales. The design team at Baker Street HQ are clearly hoping that the use of controversy this season as a marketing tool will boost their fortunes back into the stratosphere.

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