M&S lingerie design guru Soozie Jenkinson explains why stylish activewear is here to stay
WE JUST can’t get enough of activewear and sports inspired clothing, whether it’s for yoga, running, dancercise or just nipping out to the shops. Fitnesswear’s fashion moment just keeps on running and it’s no longer just for gym bunnies as we ditch our tired out joggers for some seriously stylish activewear. We even have a new word for the workout clothes that were worth £6.4 billion in the UK last year, with the neologism, “athleisure” entering the language in 2014. And when Victoria Beckham swaps her heels for trainers, as she did at her recent New York Fashion Week show, it’s clear street style has overtaken both the catwalk and high street, and sportswear is here to stay.
So, who better to work on an activewear range for Marks and Spencer than Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, the supermodel who has collaborated with the store for several years on her popular Rosie for Autograph collections. It was a graceful step for Huntington-Whiteley to move into activewear, with a range inspired by dance and movement that includes vests, sports bras, leggings, wrap cardigans, leotards and shorts in super soft fluid fabrics, using this season’s pink and charcoals with a hint of blurred florals. Head of lingerie design Soozie Jenkinson has been at the forefront of designing the activewear range and working with Huntington-Whiteley on her Rosie for Autograph Active collection which is available in-store and online. Prices start from £16 up to £29.50, sizes range from 6 to18 and 32B to 38DD for sports bras.
What is your job?
My role is to provide creative product direction on lingerie, sleep, swim and active. I work within a broader leadership team within M&S which covers buying, technology, merchandising, and sourcing. We all play key roles which come together to deliver the product from concept through to delivery into our stores worldwide. I manage a talented design team which encompasses both forward research and the designing and development.
What was the inspiration behind the Rosie Active collection?
We have been working with Rosie for five years on the Rosie for Autograph lingerie brand, and to develop the brand into an Active line seemed like a natural evolution. Our creative direction for the Activewear takes inspiration from dance and movement and includes pieces which can be layered together to create your own look. We selected vintage blush and sultry grape tones which we combined with blurred rose floral prints. Luxuriously supersoft fabrics are dressed with design details which draw inspiration from ballet slipper ribbons and sheer tulles. Medium and high impact bras form the foundation of the collection which are designed with support, comfort and femininity in mind.
Are sales of activewear on the increase?
The Athlesuire trend towards sporty looks is influencing both what we wear at the gym and our everyday wardrobes. Alongside this we have seen an increase in women becoming more interested in different kinds of fitness activities from running and spinning to swimming, yoga and Pilates therefore we are designing sports bras and activewear to cater for all sporting intensity levels. We have seen a surge of sales on our leggings with the “power” legging now being worn as an alternative to denim outside of the gym.
Why is Rosie a good role model?
It was important for Rosie to develop a collection with us that was luxurious and feminine yet inclusive and affordable to all women. She wanted a range that both she and her friends, and her mum could wear! The design ethos for the Rosie for Autograph is very much “designed by women, for women” which both Rosie and the M&S team integrate through every aspect of the range, from the flattering cut of every product, to the way the collection is photographed and marketed.
What do you think will be your most popular products in activewear?
Three of my favourites for the current range include bras, leggings and layers. I believe that it’s important to start with great foundations, so a well-fitting sports bra with great support can provide extra confidence. Our innovative extra high impact underwired sports bra (£22.40) was developed in collaboration with Japanese scientists Asahi, to provide women with confidence and support whatever challenge they are taking on, and is available up to a G cup. Patterned sports leggings are having a bit of a fashion moment this year. Ours are developed with the additional benefit of Cool Comfort TM technology designed to keep your body temperature under control as your workout heats up! Our feminine Rosie for Autograph layered “bra vest”, designed with an inner crop top (£22.40), is a very stylish gym option, and is perfect for yoga and medium impact sport.
Who are your customers?
We sell over 30 million bras and 65 million pairs of knickers per year at M&S, and our range is extensive! Our customer includes the girl looking for her very first bra in our Angel range, to women looking for feminine everyday underwear, to women looking for beautifully designed post-surgery bras, through to women looking for underwear solutions for special occasions or luxurious glamour lingerie such as silk and French designed lace.
What challenges have you faced putting the lingerie and activewear collections together?
Our design challenge is the same whether we are developing lingerie, activewear, sleep or hosiery. It is to develop intimate apparel that our customers recognise as stylish and on trend, providing a flattering fit across a wide range of sizes and silhouettes, and delivering great performance, quality and value.
What is the fun part of your business?
Always being on the search for new ideas, working with a great team, seeing the product in stores and receiving positive feedback from customers are the fun parts of my role. M&S is such an iconic brand for lingerie and once I let people know what I do as a job, they often want to share their views on our lingerie so dinner parties and taxi journeys can be interesting!
What have you learned?
In my role it’s always about great team work and I am constantly learning from the talented people I work with. However I learned pretty quickly in my career that great ideas can come from all sorts of places so I always have my eyes and ears open for anything that can spark a new product or concept.
What’s your style philosophy?
My style philosophy is that’s it has to be beautiful, it has to be comfortable, and it has to work! I have always enjoyed being involved in designing products which combine style with function so my role at M&S is a great marriage of these aspects.
What is your aim now?
We are always looking forward! There are so many exciting projects on the go behind the scenes, whether it’s working together with Rosie and my team on developing the Rosie for Autograph collections, or listening to customer feedback to help us create new ranges. I am incredibly excited to see the launch of our new knicker “The Rio” sweetheart (£6), which was inspired by the bikinis worn on the beaches of Brazil and have high hopes that this shape will become a new go to favourite in women’s underwear drawers.
Where are you based?
I’m predominately based in our London design studio, however my role means that I travel globally both for research and inspiration and to work with the teams in our offices and suppliers. London however is such a buzzing city brimming with creativity so visiting vintage shops and markets such as Portobello, which is 10 minutes away from our studio, is always inspiring.
What’s different about your product? All our lingerie product is own brand which means that everything is designed specifically for M&S. Customers love our lingerie because of the breadth of sizes we offer: we have bras to fit 99 per cent of the female population, and the fact that every piece of our lingerie is developed to be machine washable, even our silk.
What is your career background?
I knew that I wanted to be a designer at a very early age and as a teenager spent my spare time designing and making my own clothes. This passion led me to train in fashion design at Kingston University London. I worked as a womenswear designer for a number of high street retail brands before joining M&S to design lingerie and sleepwear. I was appointed head of design in 1990 and whilst both the lingerie industry and M&S have changed immeasurably in this time, within this exciting role I have helped M&S to maintain its position as UK lingerie market leader in an increasingly fast paced, and competitive international retail environment.
• Rosie for Autograph Activewear (www.marksandspencer.com)