Marks & Spencer has credited a brown suede skirt with helping to boost sales – even though it is not yet available to buy.
The bang-on-trend 1970s-style suede skirt is due to go on sale on 10 April, but only in the chain’s top 100 stores, and with a very un-M&S price tag of Ј199.
Nevertheless, some 3,500 potential buyers have already put their names on a waiting list for the skirt and the chances are it will be sold out and on eBay at a premium price shortly after it first appears on the M&S rails.
The furore around the skirt will be regarded as a major success for the M&S marketing department, which is aiming to burnish the chain’s fashion credentials and cool factor. They aim to turn one or two key items into objects of desire in the hope that shoppers will go into the stores and online and discover other items too.
The buzz around the suede skirt started back in February, when two celebrity fashionistas – the TV presenter Alexa Chung and Olivia Palermo, an American socialite – were photographed wearing the unobtainable skirt. The fashion bibleVogue then passed judgment, calling it ”a brilliant bit of Ali MacGraw styling” .
”It’s been great for the brand,” said Marc Bolland, chief executive of Marks & Spencer. Indeed, such has been the excitement ahead of the skirt’s launch that the store produced a copycat faux-suede version, which has already sold out online.
Acclaim from the fashion press can, however, be a double-edged sword. In 2013, M&S produced a highly sought-after Ј85 pink duster coat that closely echoed catwalk trends and, like the skirt, swiftly became the talk of the fashion press. The retailer was then criticised for running out of stock too quickly and not making the hot item available in sufficient stores.
On the day of launch, the coat flew off the rails of the Marble Arch flagship store and there was an immediate list of 100 customers waiting for new stock to arrive. M&S’s website also struggled to cope with demand from fashion fans, while the coat started appearing on eBay for twice the price.
That autumn, M&S admitted that sales had been hit as it had failed to buy enough stock of its fashion hits.
Can M&S get it right with the suede skirt? The retailer is not revealing how many of them it has bought in, but it is only going to be stocked in one in eight of its stores. So if your local outlet is not one of the chain’s top branches and you really want to pay Ј199 to look like a 1970s cowgirl this spring, it may be wise to start preparing your tactics now.