News Sinead Moriarty

Friday 22 August 2014

At last, M&S reaches out to real women with role models who inspire us to dream

Sinead Moriarty

Published 22/08/2013 | 05:00

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Marks & Spencer's advert, featuring Jasmine Whitbread, Helen Mirren, Darcey Bussell, Helen Allen, Karen Elson, Tracey Emin, Monica Ali and Katie Piper, who Helen Mirren said she would have at her ultimate dinner party

WHO would you have to your ultimate dinner party? According to actress Helen Mirren, she'd invite all of the women in the new Marks & Spencer ad campaign.

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With falling sales, M&S has been forced to rethink its place on the high street. With its autumn womenswear campaign, the retailer is championing 'real' women. No longer will we be watching Twiggy and Danii Minogue prancing around in summer frocks or frolicking on the beach in kaftans. The new campaign is all about women of substance.

As an author, I was particularly pleased to see Monica Ali in the new line-up of role models. Alongside the successful author are actress Helen Mirren, artist Tracey Emin, singer Ellie Goulding, ballerina Darcey Bussell and model Karen Elson along with the creative director of American Vogue, Grace Coddington.

Mirren said that the campaign was "like going to the ultimate dinner party". And she added that older women like herself still like to look fashionable.

"As women pass the age of 45 it doesn't mean they're not interested in fashion anymore. You don't have to start looking like a granny."

As inspirational role models go, M&S have chosen well. Acid-attack survivor and campaigner Katie Piper, UK nurse of the year 2011 Helen Allen and boxer Nicola Adams are all involved in the campaign. It is so refreshing to see a mix of women who are not all beautiful or perfectly formed. Women of different ethnicity, women who have lumps and bumps, lines and wrinkles. Women who are quirky and controversial. Women who have faced adversity and, most of all, who have achieved something.

The fashion industry is so completely over-saturated with reality-TV stars flogging their wares. You can barely turn around these days without bumping into a Kardashian clothing range or perfume. Everywhere you go, you're accosted with images of talentless 'celebrities' selling books they haven't written, perfumes they've never smelt or underwear they've never seen.

Compared with so much of the phony marketing and photoshopped billboards, the M&S campaign feels like a breath of fresh air. As Emin said: "I liked the fact the campaign was all about different women. It's not about what you look like, it's about what you do."

Granted, Emin herself is a controversial choice to be an ambassador for the respectable British store. Known as the enfant terrible of the Brit Art scene, she has always courted controversy. She certainly doesn't fall into the fashion icon' category, but that's what is so refreshing about the campaign. It's not about beauty, posing or pouting, it's about achievement.

Marketing director of M&S, Steven Sharp says about Emin: "She's not going to take any prisoners. She's bringing a different set of things to the party." It's an interesting statement. M&S is clearly not shying away from controversy.

For young women to look at a billboard and see Katie Piper looking beautiful and witness how far she has come since her horrific acid attack which destroyed half of her face is inspirational.

The CEO of Save The Children, Jasmine Whitbread, is also one of the new faces; what a role model she is. And Allen, nurse of the year, is yet another 'real' woman for people to look up to.

With this new campaign designed to shake things up, M&S is clearly hoping to turn around the fortunes of the store, which has seen eight consecutive quarters of declining sales.

Belinda Earl, formerly chief executive at Debenhams and Jaeger, was hired last year by M&S as its new style director.

"We have more than 34 million customers, but they were bypassing women's wear," she said. Earl is determined to take the brand upmarket, with more premium fabrics and sharper tailoring. Her first collection for the brand has been receiving positive reviews.

THE campaign, which will be rolled out on September 3, was shot by award-winning photographer Annie Leibovitz across a variety of quintessentially British locations. The sumptuous shots look very similar to Leibovitz's iconic pictures for American magazine 'Vanity Fair'.

The mixture of fashion heavyweights, national treasures, wholesome popstars, real-life heroes and the edgy Emin shows that M&S wishes to position itself as a serious fashion contender, appealing to intelligent, savvy, creative women of all ages.

"We feel that this campaign is the ideal way to illustrate M&S's move into a new era," said Patrick Bousquet-Chavanne, the company's executive director marketing and business development.

Has Marks & Spencer finally got it right? Only time will tell.

Irish Independent

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