Today’s post is all about M&S but it isn’t just my usual monthly try-on of new styles in store, I want to talk a little about why I’m making the statement that ‘hope springs at Marks and Spencer.’ And yes I know the first thought that’s going to come into your mind is that last week they dropped out of the FTSE 100 for the first time ever. I’m sure when that result was announced you could quickly reel off at least five reasons why. Now though, I have faith that we’re going to see them starting to turn around. What follows of course is a personal opinion but it’s based on a career spent in retail – and perhaps a little additional insight from having worked at M&S head office as a consultant.

What’s changed at M&S?

So let’s start at the top. CEO Steve Rowe was one of the people I reported to when I was hired by M&S to relaunch the Home catalogue and online offering. He’s worked his way right through the ranks of M&S and so when you talk to him you realise he not only has a complete understanding of group infrastructure and product offering but he really knows the customer too. However, he’s a thinker and so I suspect that since he was given the top job two years ago, he’s been ratifying everything that underpins the brand before moving on to product or store layout. I know from personal experience that implementing change at M&S is like turning a tanker and so it feels as though now, two years later, we’re just beginning to see the output of Steve’s strategy at a conspicuous level.

As far as women’s fashion is concerned, there are two very convincing new women at the helm, Jill Stanton (Women’s and Children’s Director) and Lisa Ellis (Head of Womenswear Design). Interestingly, they both have a product background at Nike. Jill, below, is Yorkshire born but has spent a lot of her career in the US, most recently as executive VP at Old Navy. For years she told herself that the only brand that could bring her back to the UK was M&S – and her return came when they appointed her last July.

Marks & Spencer - Hope springs

She was followed in October by her former colleague Lisa Illis who is known for her customer focus and you’ll be pleased to know that she believes in reading and analysing every customer review that is left onsite. And you see this is why I have faith, because in my experience, putting customers at the heart of the brand is the only retail model that works and yet so few brands do it. Too many retailers ignore the detail of consumer feedback and rather than giving the customer what they want, they just keep on pushing out the products that the design team wants to see.

Marks & Spencer - Hope springs

On a personal level I’m pleased to see two stylish, intelligent midlifers holding the reins at M&S. The first thing they’ve done is to strip away the silos. As you know, historically M&S has marshalled customers by age, directing them towards specific sub-brands such as Indigo, Limited or Classic Collection. Now those labels have gone; all that remains is a revisited Per Una along with Autograph and Collection. My heart leapt when I heard Jill articulating her reasoning behind the move: because age-defined distinctions aren’t necessary any more because women are now age-fluid.

She’s a woman who talks sense and it’s reassuring to hear her say that she isn’t interested in creating the dress of the season that sells out within days. Instead the plan is to create a series of products that can be put together as a wardrobe. She wants M&S to be known for its core staples – the best silk shirt, the best jeans, the best white t-shirts…

Marks & Spencer – AW19 collection preview

I, for one, am breathing a sigh of relief. Last week there was a Marks & Spencer – AW19 collection preview and it’s unusual for a retailer to do a press show like this in real time, usually they tease you with a season ahead. Of course it was all over the internet and I’m sure you’ve seen the images again and again but just in case you haven’t, I’m going to show you some of my favourite looks. It’s worth bearing in mind that Lisa and Jill weren’t in place until last autumn when a lot of this collection would already have been underway. I’m sure they’ve influenced it but SS20 is the time when we’ll see their plans really starting to come to fruition.

On trend and yet wearable looks…

Marks & Spencer - AW19 collection

All the way through to Christmas…

Marks & Spencer - AW19 collection

Unexpected colour adjacencies…

Marks & Spencer - AW19 collection

(Outfit coming soon)

Elegant and on trend 70s references…

Marks & Spencer - AW19 collection

(Dress and bag coming soon, belt, boots)

As well as easy to wear Autumn looks…

Marks & Spencer - AW19 collection

(Coat, jumper, bag all coming soon,  trousers, trainers)

And distinctive prints in this season’s satin…

Marks & Spencer - AW19 collection

(All coming soon)

There was something for every customer in terms of colour, style and price range.

Marks & Spencer - AW19 collection

(Cashmere jumper, boots, everything else coming soon)

It’s going to be interesting to see what you think – it’s early days but it’s the first time that I’ve been to an M&S press show and not come away with doubts. In fact I decided to walk straight from Regents Park to the Marble Arch flagship store thinking that I’d be able to try on a few of the things that I’d seen. Alas it was not to be, even though some of the styles are yet to arrive, I still found the store layout difficult to navigate so there’s a lot of work to be done there. However the signs as far as product is concerned are promising, it gives me hope.

So, working with what’s currently available, it made sense for me to order some of the M&S looks so that I could test them out in a real life environment. As always, I tried to stick to my three key activity fields (remember January’s capsule course?) – casual, work and event dressing.

Marks & Spencer – AW19 collection – trying it on

Casual look from Marks & Spencer – AW19 collection

We’ve talked about the resurgence of argyle as a trend this season. I was especially keen to try this jumper because I had a lovely encounter with an old chap when I was in the Marble Arch store. He was wandering around looking a little dazed and I noticed that he kept coming back to this jumper so I asked him if he needed any help. He told me that he was looking for a present for his wife Elsie. It was her 90th birthday and she’d just been taken into a care home because she has dementia and he couldn’t look after her any more. The thing is, he told me, that she’s always loved her fashion and even though she doesn’t always remember who he is, she notices what she’s wearing and he didn’t want to get it wrong because ‘she’ll sauce me if I do’. He was going to take her out for a walk in the grounds and the care team had planned a picnic for them so he didn’t want her to get cold. Anyway, he asked me if he should get the jumper and I said yes… and I’ve had my fingers crossed that he wasn’t ‘sauced’ ever since!

The jeans I’m wearing are an instant copy from my friend Avril from A Life To Style (more on her in a minute). They’re from the new denim collection and they sold out almost instantly but they’ve now restocked in most colours and sizes. They’re incredibly comfortable and although they have a straight leg, you can still tuck them into boots.

The mixing of checked jacket with argyle jumper is the way that M&S are styling it and it takes me into a whole new pattern clashing world. I like the pieces worn separately but together they made me a bit dizzy – that’s just me though.

Marks & Spencer - AW19 Midlifechic

Jacket; Jumper; Jeans

So I tried the outfit with a plain coat and it worked better for me. This is slightly different to faux fur, it’s like a plush teddy bear, the texture is incredibly soft and of course it’s in this season’s conker colour (also available in black).

Marks & Spencer - AW19 Midlifechic

Coat, Jumper; Jeans

My verdict? All good pieces, especially the jeans which work well with shoes too because they’re cut just above the ankle bone. Everything was true to size and I’m still 5lbs over my happy weight so that means it’s all a comfortable fit. I like the jumper but I think it would be better worn with a midi skirt or wide leg trousers because it’s cut very short… which makes me worry a bit about Elsie although he was buying a size 6 so she must be tiny.

Workwear look from Marks & Spencer – AW19 collection

Moving on to workwear, you’ll remember I ended up buying these trousers when they were first released in June. Now there’s a jacket and a skirt in the same cloth and a lot of influencers were wearing them at the press show. I’ve added the silk shirt that I showed you from last month’s edit and the way that I’m collecting pieces just shows that Jill’s aim of creating a buildable capsule is working.

I have to say how much I love this coat. I don’t need it because I have one from last season in this colour but it’s a great cut. I usually avoid double-breasted coats because I find they have too much fabric to wear open but this one doesn’t and the wide lapels balance the extra volume. It’s a great buy.

M&S checked suit

Coat; jacket; trousers; silk shirt; loafers

I was expecting no end of ‘banter’ from Mr MC when I came out in this outfit but he really liked it. Of course you could wear the jacket and trousers separately with other pieces. I found the jacket didn’t hit quite the right point on my hip, it’s quite long so it would work better on someone with a shorter torso and longer legs than me. However I’m planning to wear the trousers with navy and both chocolate brown and conker coloured jumpers when it gets colder. There’s also a yellow stripe in the pattern that you could pull out too.

Marks & Spencer - AW19 Midlifechic

Jacket, Silk Shirt, Trousers, Loafers

And here’s a close-up of the loafers which are another steal from Avril. When I saw her last week she was raving about how comfortable they are and she’s right. I bought them immediately and I love them – they come up ever so slightly on the large side so if you’re between sizes, size down (everything else in this outfit was true to size). They’re a very easy way to introduce both brown and snake print into your autumn wardrobe.

M&S loafers review

A dressier look from Marks & Spencer – AW19 collection

And with my last outfit I bring you a look that’s a little more dressy. I would wear this for work but it would also look good if you have an autumn wedding or other event. It was a bit of a wildcard because burgundy isn’t a colour that I’m instinctively drawn to but I genuinely loved both the coat and the dress.

The coat is the perfect cut and length for wearing with midi-dresses or skirts. The problem I have is that burgundy doesn’t work with many things in my wardrobe and the other colours available are camel or navy which I already have so I hope they bring it out in other colours because I’d buy it in a flash.

Midlifechic 2019

Midi-coat, dress, handbag (boots very old Boden ones)

I’d never have ordered the dress if I wasn’t doing this post but I love that too. The only thing I’d say is that you may need to size up (being a bit heavier than usual, I feel cautious about saying this… it’s coming off slowly). You can see from the picture below that it was tight at the top of my arms. Otherwise when I was standing up it felt fine but because it’s cut just below the ribs, it wasn’t comfortable when I sat down; it’s that loose roll that never goes away after pregnancy, thankfully disguised here by the belt. So, I’m reordering it in a size up because I had the same problem with an M&S jumpsuit earlier this year that was cut along the same lines.

The belt and bag I love – as you know I like to clash orange with different things in my wardrobe, especially pink. Wearing it with burgundy is a new combination for me but it brings what would otherwise be a conservative outfit bang up to date.

Midlifechic 2019

Midi-coat, dress, handbag, belt (boots very old Boden ones)

So, there you have it, this month’s try-on to show you how things look on an ordinary post-summer body. It’s going to be interesting to watch M&S over the next few months. I feel as though they’ve had a few false starts over the last few seasons but instinct tells me that they have a very strong team in place now. If they deliver what they say they’re working on, they’ll soon regain their lost ground. Fingers crossed everyone, fingers crossed.

Good bloggers to follow

And that just leaves me with the ultimate highlight from the press day which was spending the afternoon with my friend Avril from A Life To Style. The influencer world can be very superficial but there’s absolutely nothing superficial about her. As you know, I class myself as an outgoing introvert and so events like this can very quickly drain my inner battery because I just can’t do squealy inane chit chat. That never happens with Avril, we dive deeply into a good conversation and we don’t come up for air until we have to.

She’s one of the few people that leaves me feeling fully recharged. We share the same ethics as far as blogging is concerned and so if you like my blog, you’ll like hers too. She writes honest and interesting posts (that are grammatically correct) and she’ll never suggest you buy something just because a brand has asked her to or given her a freebie. I just wish we lived closer to each other – she’s based in Belfast which isn’t far away from here for crows but it’s a long way for humans… unless, of course, Boris builds his bridge!

Nikki Garnett & Avril Keys

I also want to introduce you to Diane from These Are The Heydays who joined us for a while. I’m so glad she did, we’ve chatted on Instagram because we have such similar backgrounds, you see she was editor of both M&S Magazine and Woman’s Weekly. She writes about all kinds of midlife things on her blog. The first post of hers I ever read was this one about walking her daughter down the aisle. Diane’s husband had died very suddenly nine months before the wedding and I can only imagine what she must have been through. Anyway, she’s an amazing ball of energy and so do pop over to her blog too.

Nikki Garnett, Avril Keys, Diane

That’s everything for today, do let me know what you think about M&S and the way it’s heading – they’ll be reading so please take the opportunity. I’m a bit behind with the comments again because we have a big exhibition that we’re organising but I do read them and I’ll get back to you very soon. In the meantime enjoy your weekend and I’ll be back on Tuesday.

Disclosure: ‘Hope springs at Marks & Spencer – AW19 collection’ was commissioned as part of my monthly edit for M&S. All thoughts and retail insights are my own.

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