In my posts about trend and colour, I included some of the press shots from the John Lewis & Partners new women’s clothing collection which, it has to be said, are lovely. But then PR shots always are – so what I really wanted to do next was road test some of the styles to see how they look on a normal woman (me) shot in less than ideal conditions (the incessant rain and wind that we’re experiencing in the north at the moment). For the sake of clarity, I’m doing this in association with them but as always, they were happy for me to put my own looks together and give my honest opinion on their new collection. They will also be looking out avidly for your feedback my friends so please take this opportunity to tell them what you think of the new range in the comments when we come to the end.
Before we look at the clothes, let’s talk about what’s going on at John Lewis – or John Lewis & Partners as they are now called. It goes without saying that it must be the most interesting time in the department store world since the late Victorian days when the whole concept of ‘everything under one roof’ began. As other store groups flounder, John Lewis & Partners somehow manages to retain its integrity. I suspect this is not only because of its much admired collaborative business model but also because it continually finds ways to reinvent itself and surprise us.
When I think back to the early noughties, it absolutely was not the place that you would consider for fashion; homewares – yes but clothes – no. And yet now, not only does it house the best of the UK’s high street brands but it has introduced J Crew and Madewell too. So we can shop some of the great US brands without the palaver of international shipping and extended returns periods.
John Lewis & Partners new women’s clothing collection
The obvious gap in their offering has been a really strong range of own label capsule pieces. Over the last few years they’ve launched Kin, Modern Rarity and And/Or. It seems they’ve been working at their own label fashion like a jigsaw puzzle, starting with the edge pieces and now, at last, filling the centre in. You may remember that back in March we all called upon them to create a range of strong, simple wardrobe heroes – and of course they were already working on it so we spoke up at the best time to cheer them on. Let’s look at it a little closer.
I find it interesting that they’ve named it simply, ‘John Lewis & Partners’ and I know there has been some discussion about this in the press and on other blogs. Some people think it’s a risky decision because there are women who won’t want to be seen with a JLP label in their coat. I think it’s a brave one – it signifies that this clothing range lies at the heart of their brand. And therefore the values that it’s said to encompass such as ‘age fluid’ and ‘an unwavering commitment to quality, simplicity and style’ are the ones that they intend to stand for. The implication by association is that if you align yourself with these values, you should be proud to wear the label. As someone who doesn’t feel the need to be defined by a logo, I like it.
The idea is that each season, the range will include the building blocks of every wardrobe. However what I particularly like is the way that it plays with colour. The retail-safe approach would have been to launch a black blazer / navy blazer / black trousers / navy trousers / black dress… but although they have these pieces, they’ve extended far beyond them. They’ve anchored the collection in strong colours with something for every skintone:
Cool blues: from classic navy and easy greys to pale porcelain hues
Warm autumnals: ranging from ochre yellow to uplifting tangerine
Fresh greens : from crisp and grassy to glossy forest tones
Rich reds: spanning from fuchsia and tomato right through to burgundy
Obviously this season with its key focus on colour is a particularly serendipitous time for them to launch a colour-backed concept, however it’s also the best way for women to dress. As we discussed in Tuesday’s colour post, if you can find the colours that work for you, they’re going to give you a much bigger boost than you’ll ever get from a wardrobe consisting only of black and navy.
The other area that the design team focussed on was ‘strong clean lines’ Iain Ewing, womenswear designer, believes that you can:
“ Discover the ideal trouser shape among 15 carefully-considered silhouettes. Plump for whatever exquisite fabric catches the eye among the cord, rib-knit or leather skirts offered in 13 colours. Find the perfect everyday dress in a collection of flattering and versatile iterations, in nine shapes. Score a signature knit with 19 distinct, easy cuts in quietly luxurious fabrics and seek out a transformative pair of shoes from 69 alternative styles – from elegant slouch boots to chic block-heeled courts. “
It seems to be everything we’ve been crying out for here at Midlifechic – so let’s move on to see how it looks in real life.
I’ll start by mentioning the shoes briefly. I did order some but because there are no half sizes, they were all too small so they had to go straight back. If you’re a half size like me, you’ll need to size up rather than down. Hopefully as the range develops, half sizes will be added – the styles are lovely but they’re not cheap so they need to fit well.
John Lewis & Partners – Outfit 1
Please excuse my hair in these photos – we were battling with a really blustery day and at some points I was having to hold it down to stop it standing on end! I thought I’d start with a simple colour combination – buttery ivory with black and yellow (and yes I know we’ve been discussing black but I really wanted to try this trouser shape). Let’s begin with the coatigan which is a wool and acrylic mix and also available in raspberry, navy or sky blue. I love this. It’s one of those simple layering pieces that will work hard in my wardrobe because it covers both work and weekend. The yellow is versatile, it works vibrantly with my reds and blues as well as lifting greys or black as you see here.
I like the side splits which mean I can move around easily and get in and out of the car without getting into a tangle. I wish it wasn’t dry clean only but it does have a high wool content so that’s the trade-off. The exposed seams add structure and interest. It comes up very big though – I ordered a small by mistake but it’s a good thing that I did so size down.
Moving onto the other pieces, the ponte trousers are a great cut with a stitched in seam at the front to keep the crease sharp. They’re described as a boot cut but the flare is very slight and they’re machine washable so great for work. I’m wearing my usual 12 and the high waist was a bit too snug for me to be able to tuck the long jersey top in so you may need to play around with sizes on these depending on how you want to style them.
The jersey top is an item to love. Why? It’s the neckline – I love the look of polo necks but I can’t bear them if they touch my neck. I end up with my chin tucked in all day because they drive me mad. I also find that polo necks grip my ever loosening skin, making it look more wrinkly and often creating an extra chin. This isn’t floppy jersey – it’s soft but it has enough structure to stand well. It casts a flattering shadow on your neck making it look more swan-like and hiding the lines. It’s a simple layering piece but it’s exactly the sort of well-priced wardrobe hero that I’d hoped to find in this range. It’s also available in navy and cobalt blue and it’s true to size.
John Lewis & Partners – Outfit 2
Well not so much an outfit but a stunning dress. I loved the shape of this dress as soon as I saw it but didn’t know whether to order it or not because it’s described as ‘burnt orange’. A number of retailers have been using the term ‘burnt orange’ over the summer and it always deters me from ordering because I know that most orange tones don’t suit me whereas red shades do. So (note to John Lewis & Partners) I would describe this as a warm red or an orange-red because it’s certainly closer to red than orange.
The detail I love about this dress is, of course, the sleeves. The deep cuffs have a lovely row of buttons too which looks expensive. I wish it wasn’t polyester though. If it had been two inches longer, I would have been tempted to buy it for the ‘Woman & Home 50 Over 50’ lunch that I have coming up at Claridges but at 5ft 8, it’s just a bit too short for me. The hem ends before my calves start to narrow which isn’t flattering. If you’re 5ft 6 or smaller though it’s great and it would see you through all the events in December too.
John Lewis & Partners – Outfit 3
Moving on to the last outfit, this is the one that I was most excited about. I’ve seen so many pictures of the culottes and silk blouse over the last few months that I was really looking forward to getting my hands on them – after all, bright red and cobalt blue are my two favourite colours. So let’s start with the culottes. Ever since I first read about them they have been described as wool. In my mind they were going to be a cosy, felted material but actually they’re a fine, smooth fabric. They’re easy to wear and because there’s a lot of volume in them, they feel more like a midi-skirt and so I suspect they’ll appeal to people who usually steer away from culottes. I love the colours that they come in (green and orange as well as the cobalt) but… I was really sold on the idea of felted wool so I need to decide if I can overcome that.
This silk top is fantastic. In the shot below I’m trying to show you how long and well finished it is with its curved hem. This means that you could wear it untucked with leather leggings for example but also because the silk is so fine, it doesn’t add bulk if you tuck it in. And because it’s so long you won’t be forever re-tucking it, it will stay in place. The cuffs are deep so you can style them long or fold them back over a jumper to add extra panache to a simple outfit. The neckline is very flattering to an over-40 neck too. It’s machine washable, true to size and described as ‘washed orange’ but there’s still a lot of red in it. I’m hoping it will become a staple of the range in the same way that the lace cami appears in Modern Rarity every season because I’d like to build up a collection of these.
And here’s the blue, double-faced coat (also available in camel and raspberry) that sold out on the first day although stock does keep dropping in and out. The team have told me that there will be a restock of the coat collection next month. This one is made from a mid-weight wool and it’s unlined so great for now and a layering piece for later. I often read reviews that grumble about unlined coats but I’d say that everyone needs to think about how they wear coats these days. Personally I find that I go from heated car to warm shop or overheated train to overheated office – I don’t do much standing around in the cold any more. In fact the only time that I wore the smartest of my lined coats last year was at the village cenotaph for the Remembrance Day service. Otherwise I tend to wear coats like this that I can layer with a light down jacket underneath.
Again, as you can just see in this photo, this coat has nice details like side splits. The inside seams are also bound in contrasting colours.
So there you have it, pieces from the John Lewis & Partners new women’s clothing collection tested in windy autumn conditions. I know you’ll be wondering what I’ve bought. For now I’ve gone for the yellow coat, the jersey top and the silk blouse. They were my three favourite pieces and I’m likely to go back for them in different colours too. I still really want to buy the orange shoes that I featured above, I just need them to come back into stock in my size.
In the meantime my verdict on the collection is that it’s good – very good in fact. The playful use of solid colours in pieces that mix and match so well is unlike anything else on the high street. I can’t wait to see what comes next, along with an evolution of great basics too (oh – and shoes in half sizes please). It’s known that it takes four seasons before a new range really comes together so if this is the starting point, I can’t imagine how strong it’s going to be by AW2020… there must be a number of retailers at the upper-end of the high street who are feeling very worried indeed.
These are my thoughts but please don’t miss out on the opportunity to leave your feedback too, either on the new clothing collection or anything else related to John Lewis & Partners. We have the eyes and ears of the management team, the buyers and the marketing teams so do tell them what you think in the comments.
Disclosure: “John Lewis & Partners new women’s clothing collection’ is in collaboration with John Lewis & Partners but all outfit ideas, thoughts about the new range and photographs are my own.
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