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Teresa Wycombe, Independent retail analyst
"It's destined to put a bit of fizz back into Marks and Spencers"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 26 January, 2000, 18:16 GMT
Marks and Sparks fly

The new look may spell a new start for M&S

Troubled Marks and Spencer's could be strutting out of the fashion doldrums thanks to its latest women's collection.

That at least was the verdict of one commentator after glimpsing its new women's spring/summer designs.

All eyes have been on the High Street store after a disastrous 12 months that saw its share price plummet and rumours abound of a takeover.

But things could be looking up, says Sairey Stemp of Elle magazine, who was pleasantly surprised by both the spring/summer collection and the new Autograph range, which draws on designer names such as Betty Jackson.

Halter neck bikini in fashionable bold stripes
"We're very pleased with the collection. It's very well thought out. There are some nice, directional pieces, by which I mean things that are tailor-made to suit this season's fashions," she says.

A white leather biker jacket priced at 250 went down well.

"The fitted shape of the jacket is following through from last season. The fabric is important because people are using a lot of leather at the moment."

There was also admiration for the beachwear, such as a striped bikini which combined a halter fastening with a high leg knicker.

"The shape of the bikini is good. Marks used to do them a bit wide and a bit structured. The halter top is more flattering. The bold coloured stripes are something we've seen elsewhere on the catwalk this season."

Full throttle: The white leather biker jacket
Always best known for their underwear, Stemp says the new designs are "more zingy, more fashionable and more sexy".

The details on a rasberry babydoll - little rosebuds and bows - went down well, as did the straps which were thinner and more delicate than would usually be expected from M&S.

The "flattering" three-quarter length sleeve on a beaded cardigan reinforced the view that the designers had been keeping a keen eye on recent trends.

"It's very much the St Tropez, Bridget Bardot twin sets and bikini look," says Stemp.

There was more praise from Elizabeth Walker, executive fashion editor at Marie Claire, this time for the new Autograph collection.

Although in the past Marks and Spencer has employed acclaimed designers, such as Julien MacDonald, it has never branded them as such.

Rasberry babydoll: Detail wins the day
Recently however its marketing strategists have looked admiringly at Debenhams' Jasper Conran and Pierce Fionda collection. And now M&S is set to go down the same road.

Reports say the Autograph collection will be marketed in specially-designated areas of flagship stores with the designers' names well to the fore.

"I've always said to them that they should have done this with some of the more designer clothes because sometimes it's difficult to see the wood from the trees," says Walker.

But she wonders whether the prices may be pitched too high.

"Some of the leather is quite expensive for their brand, like 450 for a knee-length soft-leather jacket. But, having said that, I was quite lusting after one."

Tape yarn jumper and ethnic print sleeveless dress
She also gushes over a line of "little knitted viscose skirts in fantastic colours for about 60 each".

Whether the new collections can revive the company's flagging fortunes is less likely. Both Walker and Stemp say the stores need a radical new look.

"It doesn't seem to be happening very fast. It's like trying to push an elephant up a hill," says Walker.

More work needs to be done with store layout so that complementary items are displayed close to each other and "not on separate floors," says Walker.

And returning to question of details, she longs to see a new design of carrier bag to replace those "ghastly green things".

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See also:
26 Jan 00 |  Business
M&S bids for image revamp
11 Jan 00 |  Business
M&S: A brand new challenge
12 Jan 00 |  Business
Pressure on M&S
11 Jan 00 |  Business
M&S sued by supplier
24 Jan 00 |  Business
M&S goes for French boss

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