Call me sentimental, but I can’t help thinking back when Sheilagh Brown and Brian Godbold were at the head of the Design Studio at Marks & Spencer in the seventies, eighties and nineties. There were always irresistible items in the stores: fabulous cashmere, leather skirts, good shirts and of course, wonderful prints. Then things went wrong on Baker Street and the disconnect between the outstanding food offer, which has never waned, and the sea of blouses in stores just did not make any sense to the modern customer.
Along came H&M. I can’t forget the day in 2008 when I was one of the mad people in London who queued around the block to buy Comme des Garçons for H&M. I did the same for Lanvin, and then again for Sonia Rykiel, Marni and Isabel Marant, too. When it came to Alexander Wang, I was smarter and I had my finger on the button as the collection became available online at 10 AM, with a cup of tea in hand. And who remembers the day that the Kate Moss collection landed at Topshop? There was mayhem and such a fight for the product – just like we saw from the Balmain launch back in November, when tents and sleeping bags reached almost around the corner to Oxford Circus overnight. As we all know, the high street has changed and the struggle for both retailers and designers to remain true to their own images through creativity and collaboration.
As the number of active social media users rise each year, the fight for digital space has never been tougher. Campaigns are reaching a new fervour, and desperate attempts to attract consumers from across the market mean that creative and non-traditional approaches towards marketing are skyrocketing. In the fashion world, collaborations between high-street retailers and celebrity designers have become the norm, blurring the line between fast-fashion, brand representation and luxury.
With its origins at American department store JC Penney, and in conjuction with designer Halston, collaborations between retailers and designers take place on the regular now, ranging from capsule collections such as Phillip Lim for Bergdorf Goodman, to more specialised collections, which we’ve seen in Stella McCartney’s ongoing work with Adidas.
The benefit of such a campaign to both designers and retailers is clear: younger people without the means are able to buy luxury labels, while exclusivity is maintained through the hype of limited runs. Designers receive fees that fund their own collections, and high-street brands capitalise on increased media attention. Crowdsourced social media campaigns mean companies can achieve ‘free’ brand recognition from customers eager to show off their purchases via hashtags.
‘There was something very touching about looking back through the British fashion and social history for which M&S is synonymous.’ – Alexa Chung
So I must be sentimental, because the upcoming Archive by Alexa collection at Marks & Spencer, for which Alexa Chung has trawled through the company’s archives to bring pieces previously in stores back to life, has made me really excited. Having previewed the approximately 40-strong collection, I am absolutely certain it is going to be a sell out. Alexa has grown up in the digital world and has a proven track record of TV appearances and style credibility. Her approach towards the M&S collection is one which has the potential to find the perfect balance between celebrity endorsement and brand image. As a British fashion icon, digging into the company’s archives rather than creating a collection from scratch not only honours the M&S heritage and history, but also pays tribute to Alexa’s strength in pairing together existing pieces, reflecting her own style.
I am sure that I am not the only one rooting for the collection to be a complete sell out. With Steve Rowe having just taken the reigns at M&S, he needs all the help and luck that he can get. He has earned it, with years spent honing his retailing skills from some of the best M&S alumni, who went on to become leaders in groups all over the world. I, for one, will be in that queue on the 13th when Archive by Alexa hits the stores.