I have had issues with their fashion – and, er, hasn’t everybody – for some considerable time. My biggest problem is the fact that far too often they make a garment in just one colour. I understand when a designer like Marc Jacobs or Alber Elbaz at Lanvin or Miuccia Prada does this – they have chosen a signature colour for a season, and if you don’t like it, well tough, that is the designer’s diktat.
But M&S is a chain store; admittedly, one with a bigger share of the middle class market, but a chain-store nonetheless, and most customers resent finding that a fab dress is available ONLY in red, or a gorgeous mac is available ONLY in lime green. Not only is there the possibility that red or lime green may not suit us, but often we want a slightly more anonymous colour. We do not necessarily want everyone to instantly know we are wearing THAT red dress or THAT lime mac from M&S.
The origin of this like-it-or-lump it policy with colour can be summarised in two words: Kate Bostock, M&S’s executive director, general merchandise. She trained with George Davies, founder of Next, then helped create his range for George at Asda, and his policy has always been to produce garments in a single colour. She absorbed that ethos and has transferred it to M&S, to the chain’s great detriment. And so far, this profoundly customer unfriendly policy seems to have evaded the notice of new chief executive, Marc Bolland.
But my latest issue is with a fashion shot that arrived as part of a marketing exercise to encourage online sales in April. The shot was of their current five models, Twiggy, Dannii Minogue, Ana Beatriz Barros, VV Brown and Lisa Snowdon, pictured under the slogan: “Spring earns its style stripes”. Clearly the stylist was restricted by having to put each model in stripes but, truly, this so-called fashion picture does nothing for any of the models, and even less to promote the M&S spring range.
Twiggy is wearing an ill-fitting variegated stripe coat in navy and white that makes her look fat and frumpy – and if it does that to a super-slim ex-model, what will it do for the average M&S customer. Ana Beatriz Barros is wearing a kind of op-art-cum-stripey print maxi dress with a halter neck that makes her look, well, fat and frumpy. It is neither on-trend, attractive or flattering. Dannii Minogue, in a red and white two-piece with a below-the-knee skirt, looks like Minnie Mouse. The outfit is fussy, twee and neither on trend nore classically elegant. VV Brown is wearing a dress that looks cheap, poorly made and doesn’t appear to fit. It might have come from Primark and cost £6 for all the style and quality it displays. The ensemble has been finished off (and I use the phrase advisedly) with a stripey sunhat that should have been left in the bag.
Lisa Snowdon is the only one whose dress looks faintly on-trend – it is a variation on colour blocking – but the style and ultra-wide bands of colour only work because Snowdon is model-tall and model-thin; it would simply not flatter a regular customer.
If you are trying to shift your spring merchandise Mr Bolland, you are really not going the right way about it. You need to have a very sharp word with your marketing and advertising people. Alternatively, SoSensational is available to offer styling advice…