M&S has confirmed that George Davies, the fashion guru behind its best-selling Per Una brand, will be stepping down from his role as chairman at the end of the year. M&S insists there’s nothing sinister about the departure, despite the two sides’ occasionally prickly relationship. But the timing is still pretty rotten. With retail sales still on the slide – forcing M&S into a one-off one-day sale this week – the last thing it needs is more upheaval…
The departure of Davies – and his daughter Melanie, a Per Una director – has prompted (or perhaps necessitated) a reshuffle of M&S’s clothing operations. Menswear boss Julian Kilmartin will also be leaving, while supply chain director Andrew Skinner takes charge of Per Una (reporting to clothing boss Kate Bostock) and womenswear designer Helen Low has been promoted to take over the creative reins. At a time when clothing sales are down across the board, having to reorganise the division that accounts for about a quarter of womenswear revenue isn’t exactly ideal.
Davies, who made his name by building hugely successful clothing lines at Next and then Asda, has been widely credited with resurrecting the fortunes of M&S womenswear. Although as you’d expect with these fiery creative types, the relationship hasn’t always been straightforward: in 2005 Davies famously walked out on M&S in a dispute over pay, before that old smoothie Sir Stuart Rose talked him into coming back (possibly with the help of an outrageous pot of extra cash).
However, Rose insists there was no falling-out this time around – and scoffed at rumours that Davies was planning to set up a rival clothing line. ‘If he has the ambition, the balls and the energy to go and do that, in the current business environment, then I wish him the very best of luck,’ he told the Times. ‘I wouldn’t do it.’ Quite why Davies would want to put himself through that, at 67 years old and with several million in the bank, is way beyond us – but retirement seems to be a dirty word for some hardened entrepreneurs…
As for M&S, it hopes to dispel its short-term blues by holding a big one-off sale tomorrow – all non-food items will be 20% off, for one day only, with some shops staying open until midnight so shoppers can bag a bargain. M&S (and Debenhams, which is doing something similar) will claim this is just a sensible way of attracting wary shoppers, but to some observers it will look like a desperate attempt to kick-start Christmas sales after a dismal couple of weeks. In the circumstances, you can hardly blame it for trying – but it’s very much a sign of the troubled times on the high street...
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