Marks and Spencer – also known affectionately as ‘Marks and Sparks’ are a cornerstone of the British high street and are held in high regard by most Brits, and with probably greater affection than any other retailer.
They were even quoted in ‘All the Young Dudes’ by David Bowie “…And Wendy’s stealing clothes from Marks and Sparks…’ – although the American version had ‘clothes from unlocked cars’ instead.
Marks and Spencer were founded in Leeds (Yorkshire) 1884 by Michael Marks, his first stall, in Leeds market was known as a penny bazaar, as everything was priced at a penny. Thomas Spencer joined him in 1894 and ‘Marks and Spencer’ was born.
The company grew through the 20th century and now has stores on most major British High Streets. They built a reputation on reasonably priced, British made goods – sold under their own brand ‘St Michael’. That policy has changed in recent years with an increased reliance on cheaper imports, but the Marks and Spencer and St Michael brand is still seen as a mark of quality. They have also diversified in recent years with specialist own brands including ‘Autograph’ ( top designers in their high street stores), ‘ Per Una’ (exclusive ladies fashions) and ‘Blue Harbour’ (the largest casual menswear range in the UK).
In 1987 it was estimated that one in three Brits wore M&S underwear.
M&S is still very much a British company, with some 600 stores in the UK and an increasing number of ‘Simply Food’ outlets. They have stores in over thirty countries, but aside from flirtations with Brooks Brothers (between 1988 and 2001) and Kings Supermarkets (between 1988 and 2006) they have no presence in the United States.