Can this collection save John Lewis? Profits have fallen 99 per cent and now Britain’s favourite store is fighting back with its biggest and best range yet
- Last week, John Lewis announced a shocking 99 per cent fall in half year profits
- The store is fighting back with a new and comprehensive 300-piece collection
- The new top-to-toe selection has a range including outerwear and accessories
- It’s filled with wearable, contemporary-looking pieces in strong shades and cuts
When John Lewis announced its shock results last week — a bruising 99 per cent fall in half-year profits — the collective sharp intake of breath across Britain was almost audible.
How could Britain’s favourite store — filled with so many memories of buying school shoes, student kettles and marital beds — be in trouble? Because the truth is, unlike some other High Street casualties, it doesn’t feel as if it is.
Walking around the refurbished 40,000 sq ft fashion floor of its flagship Oxford Street store (complete with a 1,130 sq ft shoe emporium), it buzzes with confidence.
There is a defiant joy in the bright bursts of colour which permeate the new namesake womenswear collection from John Lewis & Partners (as it’s now known after the flashy rebrand).
AUTUMN’S MUST-HAVE SHOES: Green cashmere crew neck sweater, £79; khaki tailored trousers, £59; oatmeal double-breasted coat, £249; black suede court shoes, £99 (all items John Lewis & Partners at johnlewis.com)
John Lewis’s in-house fashion offering has been steadily improving over the past six years.
First came the launch of the more modern and affordable Kin in 2013. Then in 2016 Modern Rarity appeared on the scene — a luxury range with many exclusive collaborations with designers boasting serious fashion credentials, including Eudon Choi and palmer//harding. Denim-focused And/Or arrived in 2017. All were welcomed with rave reviews.
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Fans of these labels needn’t fear, as they haven’t been sacrificed — but the new collection is certainly taking centre stage. In fact, it’s the company’s most significant and striking style evolution to date.
The whopping 300-piece collection (that figure is nearer 800 when you take into account the multiple colourways) offers a comprehensive top-to-toe selection including outerwear and accessories.
SERENE GREEN, THE COLLECTION’S GO-TO COLOUR: Green cashmere roll neck, £99; ivory asymmetric skirt, £75; nude cross-body bag, £90; shoes, £195, lkbennett .com
It resolutely ignores fashion trends in favour of wardrobe ‘building blocks’.
What does that mean? A relaxed cashmere rollneck in grass green (£99), a simple wool-blend belted coatigan in sky blue or vibrant raspberry (£139), stretchy wide-leg trousers in black or wine (£99), a crew neck sweater in burnt orange (£79), and a plain circular shoulder bag in quality red leather (£110) — for starters. There’s a touch of heyday Eighties Benetton in its colour-blocking simplicity, elevated by an upmarket Jaeger- esque smartness.
What you won’t find: busy patterns, statement embellishments, mad ruffles, annoying cut-outs or unnecessary details or fuss. Just wearable, contemporary-looking pieces in strong shades and simple cuts.
Don’t be mistaken: these are much more than basics. Every item has been designed and constructed with heroic levels of detail. Take the rust-red knitted tube skirt (£55). Its waistband is stitched vertically in four places to stop it twisting over time, and the knit has been chosen to give structure without being too heavy.
HOTTEST COAT – AND IT’S SELLING OUT FAST: Jersey long sleeve roll neck, £29; grey wool dress, £120; blue double-faced collar coat, £199
All the knitwear comes with spare yarn for mending, or — as they suggest — so that you have something to match with if you’re shopping for any accessories.
Although there are neutrals in the collection, you are going to need to get on board with wearing colour. At its core the entire collection has four key palettes: cool blues, fresh greens, rich reds and warm autumnal shades (ochres and oranges).
If all this colour bamboozles you, book an appointment with one of John Lewis & Partners’ trained stylists.
‘We can help people build their confidence, even push their boundaries in terms of what they might normally wear,’ says Christine Kasoulis, the buying director for fashion at John Lewis & Partners, and the woman heading up the new direction.
The enhanced styling service will roll out nationwide across 15 pilot stores over the next six months, while the revamped website has specific styling suggestions for each garment.
YES, LEATHER CAN LOOK CLASSY: Orange cashmere crew neck, £79; red leather pencil skirt, £160; reverse collar coat, £229
‘There’s much more inspiration to help customers understand how to create a whole look,’ says Christine. ‘But we aren’t prescriptive. It’s about providing tools not rules.’
Certainly, the beauty of the collection is in its versatility.
You can make the collection as fashion-forward (think colour-clashing, multi-layered, multi-textured ensembles), or as low-key as your mood dictates (a sophisticated grey funnel neck and perfectly tailored navy trousers, perhaps?). And when it comes to the choice of cuts, hats off to the brand: there are 15 trouser silhouettes, from slouchy chinos to wool culottes, as well as 19 luxurious, but keenly priced, knitwear styles.
And, just in time for your annual coat update, there are 22 designs to choose from. As for shoes, there are 69 options from this season’s must-have slouch boots to chic block-heeled courts.
To create such an extensive and considered selection required significant investment.
‘We increased our design team by 50 per cent and our specialist technical team, who do all of the fitting, by 70 per cent,’ says Christine. ‘We spent a huge amount of time researching the fits for the final collection.’
WIDE-LEG WONDERS – ONE OF 15 TROUSER SHAPES: Double-breasted jacket, £199; pale blue cashmere crew neck sweater, £79; black wide-leg trousers, £65; white leather trainers, £69
The new philosophy that underpins John Lewis & Partners womenswear is helping us to dress, not just shop. It’s not enough any more to present customers with an array of nice clothes we admire, but aren’t sure how to wear.
John Lewis & Partners has realised that what women want is a fully functioning, harmonious wardrobe, rather than a frantic race to buy an ‘it’ piece that instantly sells out, or to come home with a shopping bag full of disparate pieces.
‘We really want to help people find those fantastic “forever” looks, so they don’t have to change what they’re buying every season,’ says Christine.
‘Yes, you can always add to your wardrobe — but we fundamentally believe in these garments. We hope people love them and hang on to them for a long time.’
The anti fast-fashion attitude, the trumpeting of quality and service, a new fashion sensibility that ticks all our boxes — it’s very encouraging, and our lasting affection for John Lewis means we’re always rooting for it to do well. But the financial realities are stark.
THE CASHMERE CREW-NECK: Natural cashmere crew neck sweater, £79; red knitted pencil skirt, £55; orange circle shoulder bag, £110
As House of Fraser, another heritage British brand, hangs by a thread, the writing is on the wall for other department stores: innovate or die. It’s no coincidence that this month both John Lewis and Debenhams have unveiled new branding and fresh development strategies for the future.
‘We’re not standing still. We’re evolving and capitalising on elements that have always been strengths for John Lewis. Our strategy within fashion is a key part of reinventing the department store,’ says Christine. With a team of more than 200, her ambition is to create a £500 million own-brand business across womenswear, menswear and childrenswear.
As the former buying director for John Lewis’s home department, she grew their market share year-on-year. Can she work the same magic for fashion? ‘I believe a combination of our own brands and high-quality concessions [including J.Crew and Madewell, one of Meghan, Duchess of Sussex’s favourite denim brands] is the winning formula,’ says Christine.
‘People will always want to buy clothes and shop in a physical space with human interaction — I really believe that.’
There are few women who won’t find something to love in the new womenswear collection. And if it can be a lifeline for John Lewis & Partners as a whole, then even better.
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