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INTRODUCING M&S ORIGINALS:

REWORKED, REMADE, RESPONSIBLE MENSWEAR

M&S Originals is a capsule collection of iconic menswear pieces with a focus on sustainability inspired by our archive and reinvented for 2021. Head of menswear design Karen Hall explains how the collection came to life

How it started

When head of menswear design Karen Hall joined M&S, a trip to the company archive in Leeds, England, to explore the history of the brand was high on her to-do list. “I couldn’t wait to delve into the archive; many British heritage brands don’t have one so it’s not something to take for granted. The archive preserves, develops and facilitates access to M&S’s unique collection, and is one of the most important company archives due to our history as a key retailer on the British high street. It’s really interesting and hugely inspiring. At the archive, we looked at 2013’s Best of British collection – high-quality, luxury pieces – and it got me thinking that the time was right to develop a capsule collection of iconic menswear pieces with a focus on sustainability.”

The design process

Thinking about the most iconic menswear pieces was the starting point for the design team. “Once we identified key styles, the archive team supplied us with reference images and samples. Due to lockdown in the UK, we had to do everything remotely and couldn’t revisit the archive, but we were in touch throughout the process,” explains Karen. “We redesigned each archive piece, respecting their provenance, and created new blocks [master patterns] for a more modern style and fit. We also identified a colour palette and applied leading innovations in sustainable manufacture.” The resulting collection is a line-up of timeless classics with a modern twist including a Harris Tweed blazer crafted from wool woven in the Outer Hebrides, Scotland, and a merino lambswool half-zip sweater inspired by a fisherman-rib sweater found in the archive.


More sustainable style

The designers worked closely with the sustainability team. “We discussed what the ultimate sustainable approach would be and aimed for that,” says Karen. The result is our most sustainable collection yet and reflects our history of quality and use of natural fibres. The range utilises innovative natural wools, organic cottons and sustainable recycled fabrics, linings, buttons and threads. All the merino wool is Responsible Wool Standard (RWS), the heavyweight rugby shirt and T-shirt are made from undyed organic cotton and the Headingley shirt is made from recycled cotton. Recycled thread and buttons made of corozo (a natural material that will biodegrade over time) are used throughout. The collection reignited relationships with specialist British mills Alfred Brown, Abraham Moon and Harris Tweed, who wove the wool used in the blazers and wool trousers.

The models

The M&S Originals models are people with stories of their own – collectors, vintage lovers and fashion enthusiasts including photographer David Burton, artists Liaqat Rasul and Keiichiro Ito and set designer Robert Storey. “I was looking for individuals with a distinct sense of personal style,” explains Karen. “On set, we showed the guys what we thought they might like to wear and they put it on and styled it in their own way. David turned up all the collars, something I’d never do, but I like his interpretation and I wanted them to have that freedom. I’ve known Liaqat for 20 years, but I’ve never seen him in a blazer – it could have looked stiff, but he brought it to life.”


What’s in a name?

Each piece has been given a name related to Leeds, a nod to Marks & Spencer’s heritage. “We live in a world of data and code but, when a garment has a name, it gives it personality and you connect with it more,” Karen explains. Carefully considered details are a hallmark of the collection. “The Harewood single-pleat wool pants have a cinched waist, a 1950s detail that people who are interested in the provenance of garments will recognise, and the Headingley Oxford-weave shirt has a unique raglan seam that gives it an incredible shoulder.” The collection is designed to fit seamlessly into modern lives. “It’s not about smart or casual – they’re beautiful pieces you can style according to your lifestyle that are designed to be part of a timeless wardrobe.”


Words: Miranda Eason

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