M&S fashions are failing to set the tills ringing... so has Marks lost its spark?
Sales at Marks & Spencer have dropped significantly as customers fall out of love with its clothing ranges. We ask two fashion experts if they think the legendary retailer is going off the rails
Yes says Frances Burscough
As an ex-fashion designer, it comes as no surprise to me to hear that Marks & Spencer is suffering from poor fashion sales. Particularly as I was one of the company's own womenswear designers in the late ’80s.
Between 1987 and 1990 I was a lead designer in the studios of a womenswear company based in Cheshire. My responsibility was to source new design trends, produce presentations for the chief buyers and oversee the production of collections every season based on their final choices.
The problem with M&S in those days — and I suspect it is still exactly the same now — is that they took all the exciting and new ideas we came up with, all that inspired research, and, using a process of elimination based entirely on what has been popular in the past, broke them down until you were left with a virtual repeat of last season’s best-sellers with just a few tiny details changed for good measure.
Season after season I saw the same thing happen over again. What started out in August as something vibrant, quirky and bang on trend had been tweaked so many times that by November it ended up bearing little resemblance to your vision ... but resembling everything else that went before it. For its latest collection, M&S has at least attempted to be quirky with this flowery trouser ensemble with lots of layers and strong coloured shoes. But the overall outfit is a complete mess.
It has also ventured ‘out there’ a little with structured, monochrome dresses, but they just look too robotic. The blue leather skirt almost makes it — until you clock its school matron length. And isn’t the £199 price tag a tad hefty for M&S?
Of course, the quality and durability of every single item bearing an M&S label is second to none and that is precisely how the brand has survived and sometimes thrived where others have failed. But when it comes to innovation and inspiration it seems to take one step forward and two steps back.
Having seen the current collections, it appears M&S is still doing the same old thing 20 years later.
The result is a range of very dull, very unimaginative clothes that just don’t really work ... but if you do splash out, at least they will last a lifetime.
No says Maureen Coleman
When it comes to the high street, my usual haunts are Warehouse, Oasis and Karen Millen.
But I've been known to pick up a few on-trend, reasonably priced garments in Marks & Spencer, where its Limited range belies the image of a store whose clothes are aimed at women of a certain age. Obviously, with sales being down for the sixth successive quarter, the popular retailer does need to rethink some of its clothing lines. But M&S doesn't always get it wrong.
Just before Christmas I searched Belfast city centre for a knee-length, black fake fur coat and was on the verge of giving up when I found one in Marks. It was exactly what I'd been looking for and at £99, was less expensive than I'd budgeted for.
I've bought several pairs of jeggings from M&S, which wash well and keep their colour. The Limited range boasts some beautiful tops. I also purchased a black, sparkly pencil skirt, some chunky knitwear and a denim mini skirt — key items for any woman's wardrobe.
Admittedly, I tend to avoid the more conservative Per Una range but the Limited Collection is on a par with the best that the rest of the high street has to offer.
Take its leather shirt dress, for example. Leather was a huge trend for autumn/winter — as modelled by Cheryl Cole, who rocked a frock not too dissimilar.
Leather will continue to be a big trend, so this dress is perfect to take you through to next season.
Red was the only colour to be seen in this winter and this shift dress (above right) will, once again, carry you through to next season. It's bang on trend, with its nod to the Swinging Sixties — a big look for this spring.
Monochrome is another key trend and this black and white maxi (above left) is perfect for those tall and slender enough to wear it.
While many older women will remain faithful to M&S, the store needs to entice younger, professional women with cash to splash.
And the best way to do that is to extend its Limited Collection.