It’s a British high street stalwart and the first port of call for most women when they need a new zip, a suitcase or a set of writing paper.But earlier this summer, John Lewis revealed it would be unveiling its first-ever luxury clothing label – and the reaction from its customers was mixed.
John Lewis – the 146-year-old store once dubbed ‘Middle England’s favourite shop – gave a sneak peek of the range earlier this summer and industry experts were conflicted whether it was the right move.
Dubbed modern rarity, the AW16 collection is the store’s debut ready-to-wear label and promises to offer a move away from disposable, fast fashion and instead present a ‘rare take on luxury with an ethos of fewer, better pieces.’ The result? A 90-strong range of wardrobe staples – such as coats, trousers and shirts – created with sophisticated cuts and luxurious fabrics starting from £50.
The team at John Lewis say they wanted to create a range that focused on pared back tailoring, luxurious knitwear and key outerwear in muted tones using the finest materials, such as Italian spun cashmere and heavy-weight sandwashed silks. The result, they say, is a range of wardrobe staples that are ‘rare to find, will stand the test of time and will be cherished for years to come.’
‘We set off with a mantra of “fewer, better pieces”, with the knowledge that our customers are wanting quality pieces that have design substance,’ explains head of design, Jo Bennett, about the range that lands in-store and online on September 8.
‘We wanted to create a brand that could cater for everyday modern classics in a luxe way – pieces that are thoughtful, beautifully designed and crafted with care. I want our customers to feel that they are investing in a collection that celebrates and helps them to continue to build their own style.’
And with the most expensive item in the collection – a long shearling coat – setting you back £900, it certainly is an investment.
But it seems the collection was a success; sales figures are ‘excellent’, according to the brand, with a few famous faces already donning the range.
Prime Minister Theresa May plumped for the asymmetric £290 palmer//harding shirt at her reception at Downing Street. She paired the top with black trousers by Amanda Wakeley, completing her outfit with a chunky white necklace and shoes from Russell and Bromley.
The London Fashion Week event, which saw the likes of Natalie Massenet, founder of Net-a-Porter and chair of the British Fashion Council, Christopher Bailey, CEO of Burberry, and Vivienne Westwood join Theresa, has previously been hosted by Samantha Cameron, after she became an ambassador for the British Fashion Council.
The new range is all part of the bigger picture for the store, which competes with the likes of M&S, who recently enlisted Alexa Chung as a designer. Ed Connolly, the store’s fashion buying director, said: ‘Developing the womenswear proposition is a major strategic priority, as this is the area of the business we want to grow the fastest in the next five years.
‘As well as constantly evolving the brands we carry, we’ve been building our fashion authority in recent years through our own labels; using designer collaborations and our in-house design team to great effect. modern rarity takes this ambition on again and represents our biggest ever investment in womenswear.’
So what do the experts think? ‘This is actually a really brilliant move from John Lewis. I’m really impressed with the collection, and the styling looks great too,’ said fashion expert, Simon Glazin.
‘With the closure of BHS, very much down to the fact the design team did nothing new for decades, and with the success of M&S’ more luxury collections, it’s good for John Lewis to up their game and offer something special to their customer.
‘Granted, not many people will be buying the £900 shearling coat, but then not many of them will be made presumably. And often this is done to get some press, which is exactly what it has achieved.
‘But look closely and you’ll see separates that will transform a wardrobe: the chic wide leg trousers, the super-comfy knitwear, the understated sequins.
There’s something for everyone.
‘The only thing I’m not keen on is the name. Anything with the word “modern” in it immediately ages itself. But I can forgive them this time, seeing as this first collection is just so gorgeous.’
Alex Light, editor of whatalexwears.com, acknowledges the consumer shift but raises concern over the pricing and niche designers. She said: ‘John Lewis is right – there is a definite shift away from fast fashion and women are looking more than ever to invest in season-transcending items that will stand the test of time. So a collaborative luxury line makes sense – providing it’s the right partnership.
‘Palmer // Harding is very much a London industry name famed for its tailoring, meaning nationwide recognition may not be on the cards. The price point may also inhibit success. While women are looking to invest in their wardrobes, £550 for a cashmere coat and £900 for a long shearling coat may alienate the younger customers who can’t stretch to this budget.’