Marks & Spencer has poached Topshop’s fashion guru Maddy Evans in an effort to boost its clothing credentials among younger shoppers.
Evans, fashion director at Topshop, is expected to arrive by November as M&S tries to counter criticism that it has failed to shift from its ageing customer base.
News of her arrival emerges at a difficult time for M&S. Last week it announced the departure of clothing and home managing director Jill McDonald ahead of the launch of its new autumn range.
Marks & Spencer has poached Topshop’s fashion guru Maddy Evans in an effort to boost its clothing credentials among younger shoppers
Autumn had been regarded by many as a make-or-break season for McDonald, who was at the retailer for less than two years.
But a brutal assessment of clothing ‘failures’ by chief executive Steve Rowe at the company’s annual meeting on Tuesday led to a flurry of speculation about her future.
By Thursday afternoon M&S was forced to rush out a statement confirming her exit.
Fashion sources said Evans would inject ‘more confidence’ into womenswear and help drive the retailer’s strategy of appealing to ‘young families’.
M&S has already outlined plans to cut grocery prices, broaden food ranges and deliver to homes in a new venture with Ocado to advance the new strategy of attracting parents in their twenties and thirties.
Evans is not replacing McDonald, but her appointment is seen as a fundamental part of plans to create more ‘million pound’ product lines – the phrase M&S uses to describe its most successful fashion hits.
Her exact role is not yet clear, but she will work with women and childrenswear boss Jill Stanton.
On Tuesday, Rowe told a room of 700 shareholders of his disappointment at a ‘troubled year’ for clothing.
He pointed to a jeans promotion in February, fronted by TV presenter Holly Willoughby, saying: ‘We sold out. We didn’t buy enough. And that led to us having some of the worst availability in casual clothes I’ve seen in my life.’
Rowe is one of the longest serving M&S employees, having been there since he was 15, barring a short stint at Topshop when he was 18.
One clothing industry source said: ‘Fashion is a confidence business. You have to feel you are making the right decision on what products to invest heavily in ahead of a season. It might feel like a risk but that’s what fashion retailing is all about.’
Rowe told his audience that, while the clothing business had seen ‘many areas of progress’, the company had too many products in certain sizes, not enough in others, and that ranges were still too broad. He said it needed to concentrate on ‘big lines that we are famous for’.
‘I believe you’ll see a difference when we get to the autumn,’ he added.
…but store attracts the wrong kind of shorts
By JAMIE NIMMO AND NEIL CRAVEN
America’s Neuberger Berman, home to ‘The Big Short’ investor Steve Eisman, has placed bets against Marks & Spencer and Next.
The asset manager’s Absolute Return Multi-Manager Fund, part run by Eisman, has short positions in 142,713 shares in M&S. That is its biggest short position in any British equity.
Short contracts allow firms to borrow shares, sell them, then buy them back when the price falls to cash in on the drop.
Berman’s latest report valued the stake at about £400,000 in April. The price has since fallen 24 per cent, netting Berman a profit if it still holds the shares.
Berman also has short positions in Unilever, GlaxoSmithKline and business supplier Bunzl.
Eisman, on whom the Hollywood film The Big Short is based, sent shockwaves through the City in November last year when he revealed he was shorting two British banks, revealed by The Mail on Sunday to be Lloyds and RBS.