Fashion: Marks and Spencer, Sparks of genius

M & S  ifvr/ four way dress. Picture: Contributed
M & S ifvr/ four way dress. Picture: Contributed
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EVERY year we make the same mistakes. Linen trousers with more crease than crisp, spaghetti strap bikinis that give way and unleash a tsunami of flesh poolside and a suitcase full of dresses and shoes we only ever wear once the whole holiday.

But this year it’s going to be different. We’re going to cut the capsule wardrobe down to a minimum and make our clothes work for us, and with designers beavering away at producing innovative fabrics and clever technological twists, it should be as simple as a trip up the high street. And who better to ask about smart clothing for summer than the head of womenswear design at Marks & Spencer, the market leader in UK sales.

M&S Collection Fuchsia Point Court Heel. Picture: Contributed

M&S Collection Fuchsia Point Court Heel. Picture: Contributed

“During the summer we can enjoy wearing lighter fabrics and experimenting with brighter colours, but often people get stuck in a rut and recycle their summer wardrobe each year,” says Neil Hendy, M&S Head of Womenswear Design.

Recycling favourites might not be a problem if they work, but often it’s only once you’re on that sun lounger or walking back to the hotel barefoot with your sandals in your hand (and not in a romantic, along a beach way), that you remember why you swore you’d never wear this gear again.

“One mistake many of us make every year is that we pack far too much when we go abroad,” says Hendy, who suggests carefully selecting key capsule items that can be mixed and matched to wear more than once while you’re away. Top of his summer suitcase list is an M&S Multi Way dress that can be worn five different ways; cap sleeved, halter, strapless, asymmetric and cross over back. In blue and black, knee length and maxi, it’s already selling fast.

Meanwhile, down in the Marks and Spencer lab, the white coats have been working on special fabrics and technology to take the sweat out of dressing for summer. The results include “no crease linen”, which looks like linen but won’t crumple and doesn’t need ironing. This features in the menswear collections in the form of a sharp suit, and in trousers for womenswear.

In footwear there’s “insolia” shoe technology which redistributes body weight across the shoe to make both high heels and flats more comfortable. Then there’s Tummy Control swimwear with concealed panels to flatter problem areas, plus a whole range of sports and active wear which includes breathable tops and shorts with control panels to create a sleek you while you’re creating a sleeker you.

“Our ‘innovations’ pieces this year focused on our customers’ desire for quality and exceptional design, while ensuring the items could be worn again and again,” says Hendy.

Last year, the M&S boffins came up with the No Peep Shirt to save those with an, ahem, fuller bust, from showing more than they might have intended. The ingenious use of hidden buttons and placket has now been extended to all of the M&S Collection shirts and have been a top seller. Customers aren’t without their own clever ideas – that multi-way dress was designed in response to demand for an outfit that could be worn to different occasions and was easy to pack.

Which is all very well, but doesn’t all of this research and innovation mean higher prices for the customer?

“We are very focused on real quality and ensuring that our definition of value is a combination of price and quality. This means delivering stylish, well-made products at the right price point for our customers.

“Additionally, M&S is the market leader in womenswear sales in the UK, which gives us the benefit of buying in quantities that allow us to keep the costs down for customers,” says Hendy.

So this summer, pare down your packing, and whether you’re a Grecian goddess, wedding guest or party animal, you really can rock a different look every day by keeping things smart and simple.

Twitter: @JanetChristie2

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