Retail round-up: The high street grows up

Jigsaw A-Line ss16

Something is up on the British high street and it’s all quite exciting. Jigsaw has been going from strength to strength for a while, bypassing the discounting and stepping up its design credentials. The new ‘A-Line’ concept is looking good; it’s creative, vibrant and bolder than you might expect from Jigsaw. The second collection – above and below, arriving imminently – feels fresh, with generously-proportioned tailoring and luxe shirting the obvious standouts. That new attitude is also being reflected in its stores, with a branch set to open in London’s St James’s, a stone’s throw in fact, from the soon-to-be-relocated Dover Street Market.

Jigsaw A-line ss16 collection
Jigsaw A-line ss16
Jigsaw A-line ss16

Likewise, Warehouse is quietly undergoing its own reinvention. It’s been happening over time, with the e-commerce and marketing greatly ramped up and now it’s time for the product. Emma Cook is heading up the design direction under the overall eye of Alasdhair Willis who has joined as brand consultant. The results are scheduled for AW16, which means we’re likely to see a few clues in the coming weeks. (Is it me or is there noticeably more print already?).

Meanwhile, I’m not sure what the Marks & Spencer strategy is but it’s taking risks, which I guess is a good thing. Rosie Huntington-Whiteley is the jewel in the M&S crown, with a new beauty line added to her repertoire (think Charlotte Tilbury on a budget). I wasn’t convinced by the Lulu Kennedy collaboration (does Lulu mean anything to anyone outside the fashion biz?) but there’s clearly a sense that M&S needs more ‘fashion’ without trying to copy the catwalk.

The answer proposed is a rifle through the archives with Alexa Chung. While opinions were divided on last year’s camel suede skirt, I thought it was an excellent coup. It wasn’t trying to be ‘edgy’, the proportions were good and it cast M&S in a more positive, fashion-relevant light.

Will Alexa’s ‘Archive By Alexa Chung’ line of revived M&S classics (think Princess Di-esque pie-crust collar shirts) work? Yes, if it’s executed properly. Meaning well-cut, superior quality pieces that suit a range of body shapes, not just Alexa’s. That, I think will be the real challenge. The trouble with M&S is there’s a needle-fine line between achievable and aspirational and that sweet spot is notoriously hard to reach. Harder still when everyone is so invested in M&S’s success. (Note to merchandisers please don’t stuff 500 garments on a rail. Way to make your ‘aspirational’ collection look as refined as a Primark end of season sale…) Archive by Alexa launches April 12th and you can sign up at M&S for updates. Here’s Alexa in the pie crust collar shirt at last night’s launch…
Alexa Chung for Marks and Spencer
Alexa Chung for Marks and Spencer launching April 12th

I think what all this shows is that high street fashion itself has grown up. It’s not just for the young in search of a fast fix; thanks to the likes of Whistles and COS for leading the way, high street brands have discovered the 30+ demographic has as much taste and desire to look good as their ten-years-younger sisters.

I definitely believe we can thank the blogging revolution for this too. Not least the swathe of mum-bloggers who refuse to be shoved in the Converse-and-Boden pigeonhole (although Boden too has blossomed). The Spanish and Swedes (Zara, COS, & Other Stories) may have hijacked our attention for a while, but it feels like the British high street is ready to reclaim its rightful place in our hearts and shopping bags.

WORDS: Navaz Batliwalla/Disneyrollergirl
IMAGES: Jigsaw; Instagram; Marks & Spencer