If the highs and lows of Marks & Spencer are one of the retail world's favourite soap operas, then the British chain has just revealed its most daring plotline so far. On Saturday night, in New York, at the start of the city's fashion week, the Sex and the City stylist Patricia Field showed the collection that will appear in M&S stores from next month.
Designer-and-celebrity collaborations have become an established way of attracting publicity for high street shops, but Field's overtly sexy, kitsch style is a bold, as well as prestigious, choice for the chain's first major venture of this kind.
The New York-based designer and stylist – whose shop in the Bowery area of the city features multicoloured wigs, sequinned micro-shorts and some garments that are more S&M than M&S – has a cult following. Fans love the outfits and subsequent trends she created in Sex and the City.
However, quite how the shareholders – who objected at this year's annual general meeting to clothing that showed too much cleavage – will respond to the plunging necklines and clingy cuts on many of the items in the collection remains to be seen.
The range was "conceptualised", as Field calls it, as Destination Style New York, and 35 items will be available in M&S stores worldwide. The clothes fused a late 1970s disco feel with silhouettes borrowed from the 1980s Dynasty era and were set to a pumping soundtrack that had the drag queens and club scene regulars at the show shimmying in their front-row seats.
A black pencil skirt was teamed with a voluminous off-the-shoulder blouse, while a red Lycra dress and turquoise chiffon mini-dress with floating sleeves would have been appropriate attire at Studio 54. A low-backed halterneck sequin jumpsuit is probably the most challenging garment and the one likely to result in a few raised eyebrows if worn to this year's office Christmas party, while a prom dress in pink devore velvet with large red spots is likely to have more universal appeal.
The accessories were similarly bold: mini-dresses and headbands boasted flower corsages made popular by Carrie Bradshaw in Sex in the City; killer stilettos and shoes that were half-sandal, half-boot, provided the risqué footwear; a shoe-print tote bag was a deliberate nod to Bradshaw's obsession with the highest of heels, and Manolo Blahniks in particular. M&S has been successfully positioning itself as somewhere to go for accessible, classic versions of catwalk trends, but this collection celebrates Field's exuberant aesthetic and love of bright colours, rather than focusing on seasonal details.
The stylist said the range was "an amalgamation of my best experiences over the last 10 years or so, whether it be the TV shows or a movie or my own brand. It's for sexy, hot women in power who rule the world."
Field began her fashion career when she opened her boutique in Greenwich Village in 1966, later moving into styling for films such as Miami Rhapsody and TV programmes such as Wiseguy and Spin City. However, it is her wardrobe ensembles for Sex and The City that made her one of the world's best-known stylists.
Shortly after Field began working on the cult TV show in 1998, the eclectic, kooky ensembles she created attracted attention from viewers, fashion press and designers. The latter, noting the show's ability to spark trends and sell products, started putting Field on the front row at their shows and she soon moved from being a marginal designer popular with drag queens, club kids and characters from New York's demi-monde to an important figure in the industry.
Some of the trends she made popular included giant flower corsages, gold nameplate necklaces, huge clutch bags and fetish shoes, while the recent Sex and the City film was a carnival of designer labels and costume changes. Field has won two Emmys, as well as an Academy Award nomination in 2006 for The Devil Wears Prada. She also styles the wardrobes on the TV programme Ugly Betty.
Although they hit the £1bn profit mark this year, M&S's share price and clothing sales fell in July, and executives hope that the celebrity appeal of the collection will override consumer caution in a straitened economy.
Kate Bostock, the executive director of clothing, said after the show: "Initially I was a bit sceptical because her look is quite extreme, but our customers love Sex and the City, and I know how passionate they are about the kind of designs that Patricia has done. It all came together really well, and we knew we were on to a winner."
When the collection hits stores in mid-October, we will discover whether she is right about how adventurous, and how starstruck, the British public really are.
New York Fashion Week began on Friday and has so far seen spring/summer 2009 shows by the newcomer Alexander Wang and more established labels such as Diane Von Furstenberg and DKNY. Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein will also show collections this week.