I can remember when Marks & Spencer was where woman who appreciated style and fashion went shopping. I can! M&S was once a fashion destination. Don't believe me? Most young people don't. The 20-somethings around the office think I am having a laugh with them when I say we fashion lovers used to look forward to M&S's seasonal collections. That we (yes at 23 years old!) would shop there with enthusiasm to nab the key pieces before they sold out. Sadly that time is so long ago as to be ancient history.
M&S is good at many things: food (I'm currently subsisting on their two for £4 salads and southern fried chicken pieces), knickers, men's clothing basics and nighties. But since the turn of the century Marks & Spencer, still Britain's largest clothing retailer, has not managed to do anything more exciting than dull dishwater, or even old tea-towels, with its women's fashion offer. A fact proved once again this morning when the retailer's dire trading statement confirmed the worst; non-food sales are down 6.8 per cent, the worst drop since 2008. The store that has more branches in more towns than most of its rivals STILL can't get women to buy their clothes, even when in some cases is the only choice. For this, someone had to take the fall, and it was Kate Bostock the general merchandise director.
Here is an excerpt from today's Telegraph
Will it? Only if the incoming style director Belinda Earl, formerly of Debenhams and more recently of the troubled Jaeger/Aquascutum can do something to halt the decline. Belinda has had her role created especially, and plans to work at the business part time. Belinda is highly experienced and knowledgeable but, dare I say it, I'm not sure her expertise is enough to stop the flow of blood from this beast.
The women M&S are trying to talk to with their fashion have changed, but M&S hasn't. Today's grown-up woman knows more about what works, she wants to look and feel contemporary, not apologetic. My worry is Belinda has the potential to go with the mainstream perception of what M&S thinks it should be, rather than to try and shake things up. I hope I'm wrong, but if she wants to make her mark, she has to be utterly ruthless. Get rid of the multiple badly-named collections, hone down the too numerous choices of T-shirt or black trouser (at last count M&S offered 57 style of black trouser) and arrange them all into careful, relevant and contemporary edit. Edit, edit, edit! That's what M&S needs to do, and to have some conviction and authority in what they do again, not the wishy-washy people-pleasing average stuff they peddle to women now.