Fashion is my drug clothes
Published: 22:48 BST, 14 August 2016 | Updated: 12:49 BST, 15 August 2016
Next month, three fashion labels are poised to release collections that retail analysts predict will push their annual clothing sales into the billions.
The glossy magazine fashion editors are already smitten.
‘I love this oversize dogtooth check. We’ve seen lots of it on the catwalks,’ says Vogue’s Laura Ingham, inspecting a knee-length coat.
Instyle fashion editor Arabella Greenhill wears F&F pyjama-style top, £18, and trousers, £28, (stores and online from Oct 24)
‘The simplicity of this tailoring is great,’ enthuses InStyle’s Arabella Greenhill of a chic, tie-front trouser suit. ‘Relaxed but modern.’
Red’s Oonagh Brennan, meanwhile, has fallen for a button-down, A-line denim skirt which, she says, she would wear this autumn with a spotted scarf tied in a pussy bow to keep the look feminine.
Marie Claire’s Jess Wood declares herself a big fan of a multi- coloured tweed coat.
So where can you find these fashionista favourites? Should you head for Bond Street’s exclusive stores? The designer floor at Harvey Nichols?
No need. Instead, go straight to your nearest supermarket, turn right by the fruit and veg, left past the special offers and the minute you see a three-pack of socks you’ve reached your destination.
She enthused over the simplicity of the tailoring on the tie-front trouser suit
All of a sudden, supermarket fashion has become serious and this autumn the three big players - Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Asda - are pulling out all the stops to get you to wear their labels.
Over at Tesco they’re so serious about their F&F label that they now hold a show every season with attendant celebrities. Just like the designer brands do.
Not to be outdone, Tu - the clothing range from Sainsbury’s - has launched a premium range, which debuts in 160 of their stores on September 6.
Tu Premium will be more expensive than the brand’s usual under-a-tenner fare - a silk shirt, for example, will sell for £30. This puts Sainsbury’s in direct competition with some of the High Street brands.
George at Asda, meanwhile, is developing a bit of name for itself among fashionable types for its flattering denim. Good for bum-lifting and tummy-flattening, apparently.
Marie Claire fashion editor Jess Wood wears Tu coat, £45, George top, £8, and F&F leather look skirt, £18, (from Sept 12)
In fact, so lucrative has supermarket fashion become that smaller brands are trying to grab themselves a bit of the style pie.
German discount store Lidl waded into the game last year, while this spring, Morrisons and their Nutmeg brand made it onto the list of the UK’s top 20 fashion retailers (ranked by number of transactions in a 12 month period) for the first time since it launched in 2013.
Primark, George and M&S were first, second and third respectively.
But the real excitement this season is the quality of the clothing according to Britain’s most influential fashion editors, who joined us to pick out an outfit each from the new autumn collections.
It seems the supermarkets have managed to up their game in terms of design and fabric quality without upping their prices.
‘The fabric quality was the first thing that struck me,’ says Vogue’s Laura Ingham, picking out a pair of relaxed trousers with a side stripe by F&F (£18) - a version of which you’ll find this autumn everywhere from Stella McCartney to Zara.
Red magazine fashion editor Oonagh Brennan wears F&F bomber jacket, £35, (from Sept 12) Tu top, £16 George scarf, £6, and A-line skirt, £12, (from Sept 26)
‘They hang nicely and you can tell they’re not going to fall apart the first time you wash them.’
Red’s Oonagh Brennan is also impressed by the luxe feel of a burgundy bomber jacket she has selected (£35, also by F&F).
‘Now I don’t think anyone would guess this was from a supermarket if you put it with jeans and some great heeled boots,’ she says.
And, that, of course, is the crux of the matter. It’s all very well competing on price and even fabric quality - but how about that elusive cool factor?
The big three supermarkets have clearly convinced British women to buy their clothing, but can they persuade them to admit they’re doing it?
Well, if the assembled fashion editors are anything to go by, then the answer is yes - it’s now quite acceptable to buy your party dress in the same place as your loo roll.
She is impressed by the luxe feel of a burgundy bomber jacket she has selected
‘I once wore a silky pink and purple printed boho-chic dress from Tesco’s F&F to a very chic London wedding and dressed it up with a black jacket that I’d had made for me,’ says Marie Claire’s Jess. Red’s Oonagh, too, has worn supermarket openly.
‘I had this lovely little black dress from Tu which I wore to a dinner in New York,’ she remembers. ‘The other women at the dinner spent ages trying to guess where it was from.’
‘T-shirts are a staple in my wardrobe,’ adds Vogue’s Laura. 'When I’m travelling and attending fashion shows, I can go to between eight and 12 shows a day, so I’m sure, at some point, I’ve worn supermarket at a show.’
In fact, all of them agree that fashion snobbery is very passé. ‘It’s about being a savvy shopper not about spending lots of money or wearing a designer look head to toe,’ says Laura.
‘People love the unexpected,’ adds Jess: ‘There’s great kudos in a fashion steal.’
Vogue fashion editor Laura Ingham wears George coat, £25, (from Oct 2) Tu white T-shirt, £4 F&F stripe trousers, £18, (from, Sept 12)
Oonagh adds that over the past few years, supermarket pieces have become much easier to blend with the rest of your wardrobe.
‘A few years back they all got a bit obsessed with doing copies of designer pieces,’ she says. ‘I remember one particular silver Balmain dress worn by Kate Moss which George at Asda did a version of for £16.
‘I mean, yes, you’re going to get a bit of a fashion stampede but it’s got limited appeal. You will never pass it off as real Balmain so it forever looks like a cheap piece.
‘Much better for supermarkets to do what they’re doing now and originate great pieces, trend-led but not slavish designer copies.’
Of course, part of the burgeoning power of supermarket fashion is the sheer volume of customers.
She loves the oversize dogtooth check of her coat and the quality of the material
When you pause to consider that there are 61.4 million adults in the UK and that 36 million of them now have either a Nectar (Sainsbury’s) or a Tesco loyalty card - or both - then that’s a mighty big customer base.
And one whose shopping habits the retailers can monitor closely. Last year, their data tells them, almost 40 per cent of British shoppers bought clothing at a supermarket.
Then there’s price. Premium brands aside, both F&F and Tu concentrate mostly on the £8-£10 price bracket. George aim slightly lower at £4-£6.
Even the cheapest of the High Street retailers would struggle to compete at this end of the market.
And not only can the supermarket fashion brands offer super-competitive prices, they can also provide a super-competitive selection.
In the six months to May this year, Tesco introduced 9,000 new apparel products, which blows High Street retailers like Gap out of the water.
Which isn’t to say that the supermarkets have got it all absolutely right. InStyle’s Arabella Greenhill advises giving supermarket lace a wide berth.
‘Some look and can feel quite cheap,’ she says. ‘Real lace is expensive, so a cheaper version is going to stand out as being so.’
Jess Wood would like to see supermarkets think a little harder about their retail space. ‘Random rails of clothes with strip lighting and a backdrop of washing powder just doesn’t make you feel special,’ she says.
InStyle’s Arabella Greenhill (far left) advises giving supermarket lace a wide berth while Jess Wood (second from left) would like to see supermarkets think a little harder about their retail space
‘If you’re in a supermarket anyway then you might buy something, but I wonder how many women enjoy the experience enough to just go and browse the fashion.’
The other editors agree that availability is a problem. You might have seen what they call a ‘hero’ piece in a magazine - in other words an item that the fashion Press has picked out to champion - but can you get your hands on it, particularly if you don’t like shopping online?
‘If you use one of the smaller local stores then you never see the fashion,’ points out InStyle’s Arabella.
‘It’s only if you happen to live near one of the massive out- of-town stores that they’ll stock clothing and even then all the lines aren’t available in all the stores. It can feel very hit and miss.’
Tu - the clothing range from Sainsbury’s - has launched a premium range, which debuts in 160 of their stores on September 6. Tu Premium will be more expensive than the brand’s usual under-a-tenner fare - a silk shirt, for example, will sell for £30
So where would the fashion editors like to see supermarket clothing go next? ‘WAITROSE!’ comes back the unanimous response.
All of them, it appears, are itching to design a capsule collection for the upmarket supermarket.
‘You already trust the brand on price and quality so the Waitrose fashion customer is already primed,’ says Red’s Oonagh. ‘It’s an no-brainer!’
The general consensus is that Waitrose is indeed missing a fashion trick and could do much better than the safe offering of underwear, childrenswear and accessories it currently stocks.
The capsule collection should, they say, be unique to Waitrose (as opposed to bits of the John Lewis collection) and should include a great quality cashmere sweater, a white shirt, a mac, a tailored trouser, a lovely pair of pyjamas and a Breton top.
It should, they reckon, be called the Waitrose Essential Capsule Wardrobe.
So I’ll see you in Waitrose this time next year - somewhere between the kale and cashmere.