John Lewis and Marks & Spencers’ minds are more about style than slavishness. Fashion is no longer a hemline, but a concept. High street stalwarts John Lewis and Marks & Spencer have joined forces to fight for their survival. They are focusing on individualism, personal style and avoiding seasonal “key pieces” or “must-haves”.
John Lewis has unveiled its revamped womenswear collection for autumn/winter this week. The 300-piece collection will be unveiled as part of a major rebranding and store refitting program on September 4. According to Iain Ewing (head of womenswear), “is about style rather than fashion.” He says that customers wanted to be certain that the clothes they purchased wouldn’t go out-of-fashion in six months.
John Lewis’s new look focuses on classic staples like duster coats and funnel-necked silk blouses, leather pencil skirts, and tailored trousers with wide legs. All handbags now come in leather. Fabrics are richer with wool and cashmere. Ewing says that the current price range of PS10-PS250 has not changed. However, coats and leather-knee-high boots are now available at PS175-PS250. Most pieces can be found in a variety of colours. A cashmere blended double-faced belted coat in camel, pale blue, and fuchsia are just a few examples. This is to encourage customers to create outfits that suit their personal tastes.
Similar, Marks & Spencer isn’t aiming for a “pink coat moment” in autumn. The retailer’s next womenswear collection was unveiled last month. It focuses on macro trends, such as caramel-coloured, doublebreasted suits, long-sleeved mini dresses, leopard print faux fur coats, and coats with Prince of Wales check drop shoulders. Belinda Earl, style director at the company, described it at the time as “heartland M&S”.
The strategies of both brands are based on two concepts. One is that shoppers should purchase fewer items with better quality and keep them longer. This approach suits ethically-minded high street shoppers. Two, brands have a growing understanding that individualism for many customers is more desirable than following the trends. These ideas were key to Arket’s launch, H&M’s latest minimalist addition to Britain’s high street.
Traditional high street retailers are facing tough times right now. John Lewis issued a warning last month ahead of its half year results. It expects profits to be close to zero for the first half. Marks & Spencer announced the closing of at least 100 stores before 2022.
GlobalData’s lead analyst for retail, Kate Ormrod, warns that the strategy has its risks. It could work in theory because they listen to their customers. Shoppers over 35 years old don’t want the constant cycle of newness at Primark or Boohoo. Or to be told they’must’ have a particular style.
But there’s a risk of losing the cut-through if you make too much. Balance is essential. M&.S has a significant market share that has dropped in the past decade.