Last week’s profit warning from weathervane store Next after a less than buoyant festive season does beg the question - is there anything out there worth buying?
Well, yes, plenty. But perhaps that’s the problem. New drops are shrieked about every five minutes with a Veruca Salt insistence that there must always be something new, now! But while there maybe a deluge of clothes to buy, there is still a lot of dross to sift through.
Autograph top, £39.50; trousers, £29.50; bag, £39.50; shoes, £15; earrings, £12.50, M&S
M&S is pushing back against its previously bad trading results - it’s spring collection is strong, and last week it shrewdly introduced a comprehensive range of gym wear to the hugely successful Rosie for Autograph range (co-helmed by the model Rosie Huntingdon-Whitely). Of the technical collection, Huntingdon-Whitely explains that “Clever shapes such as the racer back detail vests mean you won’t be distracted by straps slipping during your workout, while cool comfort technology and perforated fabric provide ventilation, keeping you really cool throughout your workout.”
M&S still also scores highly on great basics - Jess Wood, fashion features director at Marie Claire says that “you can’t beat it, for an expensive looking classic coat like a camel crombie.”
The strongest stores out there manage to align design with the shopping experience, creating that all encompassing world - which makes sure you know instinctively what you’re going to get. The masters of this come from that Swedish monolith H&M. Its sister brands COS and & Other Stories being consistently on the ball - both offer well cut clothes, and run up to a size 18.
The easy minimalism of COS makes it a winner for work wear as well as more striking, directional (but not too weird) pieces. Vogue’s Ellie Pithers heads there for white t shirts and knitwear and isn’t averse to rummaging in the men’s department - “the trousers are well-cut and the cropped bomber and sheepskin jackets look chic in the smallest size (wait for the sales - small men don't seem to shop in COS).”
Karen Preston, acting fashion director at Glamour magazine is also a fan. “I head to COS for its twist on basics that are wearable. The cuts don't date, you can wear them season after season.”
Meanwhile stylist Alex Stedman (behind the brilliant The Frugality blog) champions & Other Stories; “It always excites me - you can rely on great knitwear with a hint of something different: ruffle sleeves, vibrant patterns or fancy sleeves.”
The key success for these stores is that the design thinks beyond the mundane - and doesn’t just slavishly copying designer labels. This is something though, that more of our established Brit favourites are figuring out. Jigsaw and Jaegar have both recently undergone clever tweaks - and offer the kind of well-made grown up clothes that jsut work, effortlessly. The knitwear at Jaegar this winter has been particularly strong,.
John Lewis has also taken note: its Modern Rarity collection follows this same, grown up pared back chic-theme. Now in its second season it is going from strength to strength. L K Bennett - that old favourite of the Duchess of Cambridge, is also a stealth supply of chic, classic clothing that works across occasions. It’s certainly the only place my city friends go for shoes and affordable handbags, while Jigsaw’s recent sales figures suggest its grown up approach is going down as well with customers as the press.
Toast enters our hearts for its affordable take on simple, classic styles - loose trousers, easy wear dresses and well cut basics make it a pared-back treasure trove (Margaret Howell for half the price). Whilst the brilliant Me + Em is our secret weapon for excellent trousers you will wear everyday with everything.
Pithers is also a fan of “Uniqlo's U line, designed by Christophe Lemaire. Last season offered brilliant workwear-style jackets and washed out denims - I snapped up a dark green cargo jacket and a slouchy cream denim dress.”
Stripe jumper, £119, and Forever pants, £135, Me + Em
Zara remains the go to for instant fash-ification, as Preston says, “I always head there for catwalk inspired trend-led pieces at affordable prices. It's worth going in on a regular basis so that you don't miss out on the best pieces.” But rival Mango, is also a great bet - if you want to get in on the souped-up shirting trend - they have myriad examples.
For something quirkier, niche European brands are worth seeking out. Belgian Essentiel (www.essentiel-antwerp.com) is a great source for upbeat, well crafted sunny pieces, whilst the Spanish Intropia (formerly Hoss Intropia) enters the new season in re-vamped form - and has plenty of covetable coats and pretty knits that are sure to charm. Uterqȕe - from the Zara stable - has keenly designed pieces at higher prices that its sister brand - but the quality is good. It’s shoes are a particular highlight.
Lastly Finery - the online brand which launched not quite two years ago - has also swiftly taken up the mantle of serving up keen trend led design - and its service is very good - shipping (over £100) and returns are free - dispatch is lightening bolt quick.