Marks & Spencer's latest attempt to win over the fashionistas (and presumably also the people that actually shop in M&S) landed in shops yesterday. The retailer needs all the help it can get to boost its bottom line - but will this be the collection to swing it? Here's our verdict...
What is it?
Archive by Alexa Chung's collection has been inspired by vintage M&S designs. Chung, who the high street giant describes as a "style icon" has "curated" the collection - which means relatively little in real terms (she certainly hasn't designed it) but means plenty when it comes to marketing etc - she has been interviewed by everyone from BBC Breakfast to Vogue Paris in the last few days and has a couple of million followers on social media platforms like Instagram so has huge pulling power.
I’ve always had an affection for M&S, so I’m thrilled to be a part of this unique project. There was something very touching about looking back through British history of which M&S is synonymous.
Where can you buy it?
Unlike some of the retailer's previous forays into more fashion-forward lines, this one is actually available in a number of stores - around 55 according to M&S' website - as well as online.
This might seem like a small matter but one of the major problems with other big fashion launches (think the pink coat) is that they were being sold in a very limited number of outlets and sold out online within minutes. Sources indicated at the time that just 400 units of the pink coat had been made - which was never going to make an impact on the bottom line, and even if it did buy M&S some much-needed publicity, it annoyed fans who simply wanted to get their hands on the items.
Having said that, some of the most popular items have already sold out - The Misty Dress (£45) - is gone, while the Harry Blouse (£35) - which Chung is wearing in much of the marketing - was only available in sizes 16 and 18 when we looked.
Is it good value for money?
Unlike other collections, this actually seems to be priced appropriately to M&S other lines: Dresses range from £40 and tops from £35, while an on-trend trench coat can be picked up for a competitive £89 (and when we looked, there seemed to be plenty of availability of that particular item).
But M&S has been plagued with issues around quality, and people appear to be sceptical about whether the products will actually be any good. And when you're chasing the fashion forward crowd, quality is critical.
unsure about quality & cut of the pie crust collar Harry blouse. Superior versions for pennies from 1980s Laura Ashley online #AlexaChung— Sarah_Woolley (@Sarah_Woolley) April 14, 2016
Is it the right fit for M&S customers?
In a word, no. But then M&S has been chasing a younger, more fashionable consumer over the last couple of years.
The problem is that these collections are short-lived and younger shoppers are much more fickle than their mothers were, so no loyalty is being built in. And M&S as a brand isn't exactly cutting edge. Meanwhile the core customer is arguably being alienated by collections that don't suit their needs (or their shapes).
The Daily Mail has put this theory to the test with a mother-daughter review of the collection - the verdict is hardly earth shattering but does summarise the point.
What does M&S say?
Only good things, of course. According to the retailer, 34,000 customers had pre-registered their interest in the collection before it went on sale and more than 20,000 pieces were sold in the first day online.
So, is it any good?
In terms of trends, it will make the fashion press happy - but much of the collection still looks wearable for the average consumer.
It's unlikely that the Harry Blouse or Dress will appeal to core M&S shoppers, and some of the other items are definitely for young hipsters rather than their Home Counties mums, but there's some cross-over pieces that could be lapped up by more traditional shoppers - if they can get their hands on it.
Will it do anything for M&S' figures?
After a brief boost of positive publicity, the speed with which items are selling out suggests it's another cautiously small collection in volume terms. Archive by Alexa will almost certainly be another drop in the ocean.