First, let me declare myself. The answer to the question in the headline is: a bit of both.
I love high street designer collaborations. They’re a great way of buying into a designer look at a fraction of the regular price and the quality levels are usually high. Some work better than others of course (the critical ‘failures’ are usually those that have too much of the retailer’s signature style and not enough of the designer’s, like the Gap-Roland Mouret one a few years ago).
I’m less enamoured of ‘personality’ collabs as they can tend to rely more on the personality’s publicity value and often boil down to an ‘edit’ (ie the celeb picking some pre-existing pieces). Again, there have been notable successes with much of Kate moss’s offer for Toyshop proving strong.
And then there’s Alexa…
The Alexa Chung for AG collab was so appealing because it tapped into a moment when denim moved out of the denim department and onto the main fashion floor. That button-through mini dress was a sellout.
But I’m perplexed by parts of the Archive by Alexa collection for M&S. Archive collections can be fun and give us some surprisingly contemporary pieces. Brands from upper-end high street level to designer have re-offered their classics or revived standout pieces and really made an impact.
I hate being mean to people online (especially old favourites like M&S thats full of great clothes if you take the time to look) yet I also don’t feel like saying something’s brilliant just because everyone else is (The Emperor’s New Clothes was a fave fairy story of mine as a kid!)
Some of this collection leaves me scratching my head. M&S must have some brilliant items in its archive (let’s face it, you can come across them daily just by rummaging through the rails in vintage stores). But some of the pieces here (the granny vests, sweaters, plain cardigans, slip dresses) just don’t stand out as anything to make a special M&S trip for. Additionally, some of the campaign photos with the dark haired model looking spectacularly glum also feels unappealing.
Maybe the fact that Alexa Chung ‘curated’ these pieces will add to their appeal but some of them are simply basics that can be found elsewhere – and that’s key because at the moment the cool millennial M&S wants to reach really is shopping anywhere but Marks & Sparks.
“I wanted this collection to reflect my personal interaction with the brand since childhood,” Chung told The Times. “My school cardigan and pleated skirt, my thermals, my dad’s jumpers I used to wear to ride my pony.”
Of course, most people won’t be shopping for something to wear during pony rides. So is there anything worth buying? Yes. There are some very appealing pieces. The neck frill/yoke frill blouse or dress is very on-trend (Chung cites Princess Diana as the influence but it also feels very Miu Miu AW15). And a couple of print dresses that are pure retro should also strike a chord with anyone who hasn’t worn the look before. In fact, the 60s one looks just like a dress I got for my ninth birthday. Maybe that was an M&S one.
Plus, of course, those slip dresses are very now (as well as being very 90s) so worth a look if you happen to be in M&S. The navy double-breasted jacket with cropped wide trousers should hit home for pantsuit lovers (although most will likely be grateful that they’re shorter than the average model and those pants will sit lower on the ankle, neatly avoiding the need to alter them).
I’ll be interested to see how this collections fares. It will probably do well just because of the Alexa Chung name and the heavy publicity it’s getting. But to me, it doesn’t feel special enough. I won’t be queuing in the rain to get my hands on it.