istyle: On your marks

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A new collection from M&S celebrates the best in British design and manufacture, says Emma Akbareian

Marks & Spencer is  the quintessential British retailer; a one-stop shop loved by all ages, outfitting everyone from baby to grandad and furnishing the entire house, even the contents of the fridge (albeit at a price). It’s safe to say the retailer holds a very special place at the heart of the great British high street. It feels especially appropriate that it should launch a collection in which every element from design board to sewing machine has been made in Britain.

The new range is composed of  offerings for both men and women, timelessness and heritage design being the focus. “The idea for the Best of British menswear collection was born from the M&S archive, based in Leeds,” Tony O’Connor, head of design for the menswear collection, says. “The archive contains hundreds of pieces from throughout the decades; naturally it was the perfect starting point for a collection synonymous with British heritage and design.”

The once-booming British textile  industry has seen a decline thanks to the economic efficiency of out-sourcing to manufacturers abroad, but these collections have allowed the brand to turn back to home-grown talents. The knitwear company Hawick, based in the Scottish borders, tailoring experts Cheshire Bespoke and outerwear  specialist Cooper and Stollbrand are just some of the long-established  manufacturers who were involved in creating these pieces.

It’s not just British manufacturing that makes the collections stand apart from the other offerings on the store’s rails; the real selling point is its positioning at the premium end of the high-street spectrum. The considered design, superior fabrics and techniques used all hike up the quality to a level we traditionally associate with the label “Made in Britain”. Of course, this means the range comes with a higher-than-high-street price tag. Some thrifty  customers may balk at an £800 suit; equivalent English tailoring at a  designer store, however, would come with an extra zero.

The womenswear range sticks close to the heritage theme, but adds an edge. “There’s also a distinct androgynous feel, with several pieces very much influenced by masculine styling,” Neil Hendy, head of design for womenswear, says. Tweed  suits in grey and coats in camel shades make up a classic offering, alongside a pop of  autumn/winter 2013’s favourite  Pepto-Bismol pink.

In menswear, watch out for cashmere jumpers, double-breasted coats, and Prince of Wales check blazers that, suitably, seem fit for royalty. Can’t get more British than that.

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