If you grew up in this country, you probably feel vaguely patriotic about M&S, in a way that you never would about Tesco or JJB Sports. You may have bought your school uniform there, unless it was Shepherd & Woodward. There’s something very British about it, all flannel this and corduroy that and grey the rest of it. If you are over 25 years old and have never owned a pair of once-white M&S Y-fronts, then you grew up in a very different Britain to mine.
But that was a different time. Now, M&S is associated in the public mind with posh ready-meals, borderline pornographic food adverts, and Noemie Lenoir. M&S is essentially a fast-food Waitrose these days, a place where you go if you want potatoes dauphinoise or a fillet steak with anchovy butter but can’t be bothered preparing it, not if you want a shirt or a pair of jeans. On those rare occasions when I’ve gone into an M&S clothes shop in recent years, it’s a bit like stepping into the late, lamented C&A circa 1992; everything feels very slightly like your mum would buy it for you, because it’s sensible and hard-wearing. Pastel shades, pleated chinos and green blazers, slightly overloud short-sleeved shirts that scream Father’s On A Weekend Break To Pangbourne. It exists in a sort of neither-fashionable-nor-quite-unfashionable twilight, effortlessly gliding through the years without ever quite working in any of them.
It doesn’t matter, of course. The company will have a high-profile bad time for a few months, this Kate Bostock person will leave and a new person will come back in, then it’ll run a new series of exciting adverts at Christmas which will excite everyone – probably featuring Emma Watson and Twiggy throwing snowballs at each other and then pulling a cracker – and everyone will start talking about how M&S is back and it’s turned it around and now it’s driving the high street clothing agenda or something, and it will do all of this without making one noticeable alteration to its menswear range in 25 years. M&S is like the Royal family: we love it because of its failure-stroke-refusal to bow to the whims and fads of fashion. Which, for a fashion house, is pretty strange, but it’s worked for 118 years so far.