HomeBusinessHow Marks & Spencer is putting Jaeger back on fashion map

How Marks & Spencer is putting Jaeger back on fashion map

Marks & Spencer will more than double the number of its shops stocking Jaeger after a successful launch.

The High Street retailer will also begin selling the fashion brand in overseas stores for the first time later this year.

Jaeger was snapped up a little over a year ago after it collapsed under its previous owners.

Jaeger boss Fiona Lambert (pictured), was parachuted in to take control of the brand after it was snapped up by M&S only a year ago, its sixth owner in 20 years

M&S, which recently appointed Stuart Machin and Katie Bickerstaffe as joint chief executives, is using Jaeger to burnish its fashion credentials.

‘It’s been very successful,’ says Jaeger boss Fiona Lambert, parachuted in shortly after the acquisition.

‘The response in stores has been fantastic – and not just from Jae- ger customers.

‘There are a lot of new customers walking into M&S that might not have looked at it before.’

Some lines are ‘selling out too quickly’, she added.

The label has a rich history and was worn by Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn and Jean Shrimpton in the 50s and 60s when British music and style led the world.

But Jaeger’s remaining shops closed for good after it collapsed during the pandemic. M&S bought the brand a year ago, its sixth owner in 20 years. 

The range is in 12 stores following a pilot launch before Christmas. Another 14 will be added next month.

Lambert is looking for temporary ‘pop-up’ shops around the country to help raise the profile of the brand and has not ruled out opening shops again on the High Street in future.

It is already selling online to overseas customers and will launch in stores in Dubai, Hong Kong and Singapore in the coming months.

Brand new: A model in a dress from Jaeger’s summer 2022 collection

Brand new: A model in a dress from Jaeger’s summer 2022 collection

‘We anticipate possibly half the business coming internationally across both men and women,’ she explains.

Lambert concedes multiple owners and historic financial distress means the brand has ‘probably lost a bit of its confidence’ in recent years.

But, now with the financial clout of M&S behind it, she says: ‘There’s a legacy to carry on. Jaeger is a baby in my hands now and I’m going to look after it. 

‘Of course, I feel like everyone will be watching what we’re doing because people have this real fondness for Jaeger.

‘The challenge – or the joy – of this is that people say “My mum used to wear it” or “My nan used to wear it”. I think there was an emotional connection.’

In recent incarnations the clothes had become ‘a bit stuffy and a bit formal’ and lost the easy wit of its heyday in the 50s, 60s and 70s, says Lambert, who studied design and design history and still turns her hand to pencilling style ideas on the page in meetings.

‘Our job is to make it relevant for a much broader set of customers and it not be about age,’ or what she describes as making an ‘understated statement’.

But while Jaeger may still have emotional resonance with its core shoppers, Lambert – who has carved her career at mainstream brands including George at Asda, Next and Dunelm – is not starry-eyed.

‘People [in M&S] recognise that Jaeger can be an asset by attracting a different customer. I’ve been clear from the outset that we should be complimentary, not be in competition,’ the chief executive says.

Jaeger – at 138 years old, exactly the same age as M&S –began selling a smaller range before Christmas. Womenswear accounts for 80 per cent of the range but ‘we think there is a lot more opportunity in men’s’.

Other M&S stores will get the label over time although Lambert wants it to be in ‘the right stores rather than every store’.

But she says: ‘We’ve got to earn our space in store.’

In the past year, Lambert has breathed new life into Jaeger. In that time she recruited a 35-strong team – ‘mostly on Zoom’ – and set up an office on the fifth floor of the M&S flagship store at Marble Arch, looking down onto the bustle of London’s Oxford Street and away from its towering, glassy head office in Paddington.

Did that distance from the mothership help provide a fresh perspective? ‘Whether we were in the same building or not, from the outset M&S wanted Jaeger to behave independently,’ she says. 

She has plundered the ‘incredible archive’ to get a flavour of the fabrics, styles and iconic photography that made Jaeger so enduring. 

Founded by Doctor Gustav Jaeger, it was once famous for using ‘healthy’ wool fabrics and clothed explorer Ernest Shackleton on his mission to Antarctica in 1907.

But most will remember it from the 50s when it was worn by Monroe and Hepburn and designed by Jean Muir, who reinvented the label for a new generation that flocked to its Regent Street store to buy Young Jaeger.

Collapse: Jaeger was snapped up a little over a year ago after it fell into administration under its previous owners

Collapse: Jaeger was snapped up a little over a year ago after it fell into administration under its previous owners

In the 60s, Shrimpton, regarded as one of the world’s first supermodels, was photographed by David Bailey wearing a suede Jaeger coat for Vogue magazine.

‘They were always on the front foot,’ says Lambert.

But she says: ‘I think with the acquisition, Jaeger had a blank sheet of paper to reinvent those strengths, but reinvent it for today.’

Rather than ultra-formal, as Jaeger has leaned towards in its more recent past, the latest range is more about ‘versatile dressing’, she says.

‘People are not necessarily going to step straight into dressing head-to-toe in a suit again [after the pandemic].

‘So it’s about finding this hybrid way of dressing: people can be ready to go out, to travel, go to events.

‘But buying something you are only going to wear once, for one occasion, isn’t sustainable any more,’ she says.

Among the trouser suits and long-line wool coats are other heavy hints of the brand’s past.

A logo in relief on one bright red top speaks to the old ‘playful’ Jaeger while ‘more relaxed’ 50s dresses feature old prints from the archive.

Despite Covid-related shipment delays, she has been ‘90 per cent there’ getting stock where it needs to be.

‘The range is strong enough that two or three pieces missing isn’t going to hurt it.’

She describes the opportunity as ‘a dream job’.

‘People [Jaeger customers] are trusting us with Jaeger.

‘That was why it’s important that we don’t let go of its values – the quality.

‘They want to know that this is going to last.’

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