Marks and Spencer was founded in 1884 in the northern English city of Leeds, a few hours north of London. Since then, it has expanded to become a global presence in more than 40 countries and boast 703 stores across the UK. The company has changed over the years from reliable, middle of the road and middle England to becoming the go-to place for almost all of British underwear needs. In recent years, its fashion lines have gone through several metamorphoses, some more successful than others.
London's flagship store — Photo courtesy of Ewan-M
For many years (up until 2002), Marks and Spencer was only known for selling British goods. That policy has long gone. But this season, they appear to have returned to their roots with that mix of quirky, aristocratic and smart style the British do so well.
Model of the moment, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, is not only the face of their underwear range, but she also designs for it, too. It is not too much of an exaggeration to say that probably everyone in Britain at some point in their lives has worn a set of Marks and Spencer's underwear. Many people swear by them. Now the brand is making sure that its outer clothes acquire that same ubiquity.
Reliable and trusted — Photo courtesy of Ell Brown
Marks and Spencer first went to France - for many, the capital of the fashion world - in 1975. Their food lines became so beloved by the French that when they shut down for several years, they were mourned. Their reopening of shops in Paris came with queues around the block and a fanfare reminiscent of a royal jubilee.
Whilst the French may not have thought of Marks and Spencer as being quite so useful for its clothes, the European website has been expanding and selling more and more across Europe's fashionable and chattering classes.
The big flagship stores in London are on the corner of Baker Street and Oxford Street, not far from Bond Street tube and opposite Selfridge's, another big store that has undergone a successful re-branding.
In May 2013, Marks and Spencer launched its "Best of British" range, a line which has sent fashion experts writing favorable reviews and clamoring for more. The clothing division now is estimated to account for about 11% of the British retail market.
The fall collection from the Best of British collection used the finest cloths from around the British Isles, like cloths from Yorkshire and Cheshire, outerwear from Manchester and shoes from Northamptonshire, drawing on British expertise and technology to be truly "made in Britain." Modern, simple styling takes in merino wool sweaters, simple tweed tailoring and handmade leather shoes.
The latest British collection arrived in stores October 20, 2013, and has been generating press coverage since early summer. In Autumn 2013's collection, there are soft, fluffy pastel lambswool and angora sweaters. To make you think of the fifties, there are great sexy fake fur jackets, slick biker jackets, buckled riding boots. There's also a '40s chic section with cinched waists, pencil skirts, blouses and fur collars.
The shop also takes care to provide some ranges in organic or fair trade cotton, to make you think about where the clothes are made. Staff are approachable, friendly and clothes generously cut. So you can feel that sense of achievement when you get into the size you hoped you could buy, rather than forced to buy the size bigger than you think you are.