People talk about the ‘It’ item like it has to be a designer handbag, something unreachably expensive and lavishly unnecessary. But, they forget about Marks & Spencer. Since the days of that pink coat, M&S has, like clockwork, made an item that everyone from influencers to our nan want. And they want it so bad, Marks & Sparks struggles to keep it in stock (more on this later).
There was that teddy bear coat and the constellation dress, that pleated midi skirt and, of course, this season’s lemon pussy-bow midi dress. These are the pieces that drive the conversation, not just about M&S but about British fashion.
Marks has its champions, and they are so so stylish. The incomparable Alexa Chung with her inimitable take on androgyny and prettiness. And, most recently the poster child of run-don’t-walk shopping, Holly Willoughby. The host of This Morning is known for her ability to unearth high street gems and boost their sales by posting them on her Instagram. The frenzy she causes is on par with the Meghan-effect. One nod from Willoughby and shoppers are flooring it to the store.
See: 5 Items On Our Marks & Spencer Wishlist
Marks & Spencer, Per Una, Doubled Breasted Faux Fur Coat, £89buy
Capitalising on the waves of buyers that descended on Marks & Spencer’s every time Willoughby wore one of their designs, M&S named her brand ambassador earlier this year. She curated a selection of items for the store, including pencil skirts and jackets, sweaters and ankle boots - essentially a checklist of all the items that have made this TV presenter into a style icon for the masses.
Sadly, Willoughby highlighting the appeal of a marigold dress has not been enough to save Marks and Sparks from its dreaded fate. In fact, it may have exacerbated the problems.
Today, the retailer’s chief executive, Steve Rowe, reported that sales at stores have been down in the last six months with clothing and homeward sales dropping by 2.7 per cent because of store closures. It’s not just fashion that’s suffered the food halls have felt the pinch too with more accessible rivals Lidl and Aldi squeezing the market.
Availability seems to be one of the biggest problems besieging the store. ‘We are letting customers down with availability,’ said Rowe. ‘We have some good products this season and the ranges are improving, but we are still in a position where we are buying too many [clothing] lines. The range is too broad and too shallow.’
Willoughby shining a light on the hero items from M&S spotlights the retailers biggest struggle: too many lines and not enough stock. It’s not that the pieces are out-of-step, in fact, it’s the exact opposite, but the trend-led items we want are as hard to get hold of as the latest Supreme drop.
Mr Rowe, if you want our advice, do away with the twenty iterations of plain black trousers and slimline the collection to its essentials and anything Alexa or Holly might wear.