It was fascinating this morning to read about John Lewis’s list of the10 must-have items it thinks will sum up the AW16 season. Each item says a lot about us as consumers, the way John lewis has changed and how much money some people are prepared to pay for some items.
OK, we all know that such lists can be a bit contrived but see what you think when you look at what’s on this one.
Fashion & beauty
The big fashion news (to me) is how ‘safe’ John Lewis thinks the season will be and how the catwalks seem to have little influence here. Perhaps that’s no surprise given that the big growth area the firm is seeing is also not trend-driven – apparently sales of cashmere clothing have risen 33% in the past year.
So, top fashion item for women is a boiled wool coat-igan in off-white retailing at £100. Meanwhile, the top item for the “confident sartorial man” (nobody I know) is a velvet tuxedo in statement sapphire (£175) with an archive-inspired paisley silk lining.
Hmmm. I get the coat-igan but I’m mystified by the tux and find it hard to believe that John Lewis will shift it in large numbers. But hey, this is a retailer that knows its stuff so let’s not be too sceptical.
Also key for women, John Lewis says, is a star item that’s tracking the catwalks more closely, the over-knee boot. Now this is something I really can get behind. Ankle boots (lovely though they are) have hogged the spotlight for way too long so we need something different. In this case, the retailer is pushing its in-house Somerset by Alice Temperley collection, with a close-flitting stretch suede boot in an autumnal berry shade.
On the fragrance front, there’s another surprise. The company’s pick for fragrance star isn’t one of the fashion designer brands or even something a bit new age. Instead it’s the resolutely traditional Creed Aventus, at £115. It’s only available for men for now but it’s been the best-selling men’s scent at the store and is getting a women’s equivalent in June.
Home sweet home
So that deals with fashion and beauty. But it’s when we get to home goods that the interest really starts. One thing is clear, people in the UK are much happier paying big money for furniture, kitchen equipment, tech and the like than they are spending it on clothes.
John lewis is well aware of this saying, for instance, that it’s seen an 87% rise in sales of premium duvets and a 23% rise in premium candles in the past year. Expensive mattresses are also big sellers and silk pillowcases are enjoying a purple patch too.
So, the next product on the list is actually an assortment of products brought together under the name of the Duvet Menu. These duvets, made by a long-time John lewis supplier, aims to personalise the duvet purchasing experience so customers can choose any size, shape or tog rating at prices starting from £12 (sounds good to me) up to a whopping £10,000.
Now, speaking as someone who hasn’t been averse on occasion to spending crazy amounts on a coat or a perfect leather jacket, the thought of blowing 10 grand on a duvet leaves me speechless. But the fact that this is John Lewis (rather than those temples of decadent luxury Harrods or Selfridges) shows just how much some people will pay for home products and how John lewis has transformed itself into a premium-meets-luxury retailer in recent years.
But there’s more… With sleep in mind, the exclusive REsMed S+ (£129.95) is also on the list as perhaps the ultimate well-being product but also perhaps the ultimate self-indulgence. Using advanced bio-motion technology and sleep science, it can measure breathing and body movements, as well as the conditions in the bedroom, to deliver personalised feedback and (hopefully) improve sleep patterns. Not sure whether that means it’ll send you a message telling you to “open the window” or “change your sheets”, but I’m not about to spend £130 to find out.
So now we move on to the kitchen. The big (or actually small) key item here is the Mini Kitchenaid Stand Mixer, which comes in at just under £400. Why the mini? Because more people are living alone or as couples (rather than families) so want/need a smaller mixer and because new home builds these days are significantly smaller than they were just 10 years ago so we’ve got less space to store a big mixer.
Over to the living room, we get a nest of tables with marble tops. Designed by the in-house team, the Design Project No. 061 Nest of Tables (£375), is accompanied by the spectacularly ugly Design Project No. 001 Table Lamp (£160) made from hand-blown smoked grey glass. Why is that in there? Because average spend on lighting is rising, up by 6% in a year.
And then there’s a a piece of very indulgent tech, the Samsung Gear VR to sum up what John Lewis believes will be major consumer interest in virtual reality to “reinvent how you work and play”.
As I said, the list is fascinating, perhaps also a bit perplexing and maybe even a little off-putting. But we have to remember that this is a retailer with its finger on the pulse of the UK more than any other. It just can’t be ignored.