JOHN LEWIS & PARTNERS’ HEAD OF BUYING, WOMENSWEAR REVEALS THE BOLD NEW DIRECTION FOR THE IN-HOUSE COLLECTION AND WHY IT’S SET TO BE A JOY TO DISCOVER.
As she introduces John Lewis & Partners, our largest own-label collection to date, Jo Bennett looks cheerful and confident. It’s an impression that is only enhanced by the buttercup-yellow trousers and orange silk shirt she’s wearing. This is an outfit that perfectly illustrates how vivid colour and a great silhouette can make you look a million dollars.
According to Jo, the new collection of clothes is about more than, well, clothes. "It’s about a new style philosophy that embraces women’s individuality and the way they dress, using colour and silhouette to create new building blocks for your wardrobe," she says. And although Jo’s wide, cropped trousers and high-neck blouse are very fashionable – the current linchpins of modern dressing – she’s happy to make an even braver statement: "The range is the antithesis of trends. We’re putting style before fast fashion. We’re empowering women to be individual, to be themselves."
In her role as Head of Buying, Womenswear, Jo is responsible for the in-house brands, as well as the other labels stocked in store. So, she sees a heck of a lot of clothes? She laughs: "A lot!" This collection is no exception. Created by a brilliant team of passionate expert Partners, it consists of around 300 pieces – a total of 800 garments and accessories, if you count all the different colourways. And there is a lot of colour: blue, green, red and yellow and everything in-between.
“We’re empowering women to be individual, to be themselves.”
The effect is rather satisfying and clever. There’s something about a garment drenched in pure colour that makes you think it’s the answer to all your problems. OK, maybe only your sartorial problems, but it definitely makes you want to touch it, stroke it, own it. And colour-phobes, take note: before you back away from the rainbow brights, there are also plenty of neutrals in there.
"I think colour is always optimistic, but it doesn’t always have to be bright," says Jo. "You can build it to colour-clash or to colour-complement. If you want a completely neutral palette, you can do that here. We’ve made it so that you can get exactly the same styles in different colours."
The clothes are predominantly daywear – no cocktail dresses here. "But I think what we really understood about our customer is that in one day she might do ten different things," says Jo, laughing. "It’s one of my continual nightmares, actually, thinking: what am I doing in the evening and how am I going to make what I wear today work? We don’t have time to change, we lead busy lives – but there are pieces here that work for all different occasions." She pulls out a pleat-fronted blouse, a leather pencil skirt and swishy black palazzo pants. "These are the building blocks of fashion, because you can style them and pair them differently."
“Colour is optimistic, but it doesn’t always have to be bright.”
What customers told Jo and her team was that they wanted simplicity. Ease. Something that would take the grind out of shopping for clothes. To aid in that process, each season the shop floor will be split into colour zones. "The team has designed it so that every colour tone works with everything else in that zone," says Jo. There’s also a new in-store styling service that has been trialled in the new John Lewis & Partners shop at White City, Westfield, and will launch in a selection of others nationwide. "Each of our Personal Stylists will be trained in our new philosophy, helping women find their own individual style."
“Customers told us that what they wanted was simplicity.”
"We’ll be providing more visual cues online and in store – more mannequins, more creative looks, more imagery – to help customers find their way." Key to this is a new concept called '3 steps to style'. "It’s about breaking down a look into three pieces, with one basic item, one accent and one finishing touch." That might be a pair of wide-legged cropped trousers, a three-quarter-length coat and a stand-out faux-fur shawl. "It’s all about creating your own look in your own way with your own proportions," says Jo.
Describing her own style as "understated, feminine and relatively timeless", Jo says that she looks for silhouettes that will flatter. "And I like quality clothes I know will last." She's been picking out pieces that she'll wear next season, such as today's outfit. "The beauty of it is I can dress every day from this collection. I can go super-bright on a sunny day or very muted on another. I can dress up or down," she says. "It's that flexibility that we all need."