Word on the high street is that there is not enough going on in the world of fashion.
The tranche of “secret” Sales e-mails and vouchers advertising promotions last weekend did not provide the impetus that fashion retailers were looking for to kick start Christmas sales. But, while any bullish forecasts for Christmas look set to be reduced to a whisper, things behind the scenes are not so quiet.
And making the most noise are fashion doyennes Angela Spindler, Jane Shepherdson and Karyn Fenn.
The surprise appointment of Spindler in the new role of Debenhams managing director could reverse the fortunes of one of the City’s most scrutinised retailers, but it will be an uphill task.
Spindler, the former head of clothing label George at Asda, could provide a much needed tonic for Debenhams, which has been let down by its lack of fashion focus and blames its menswear in particular for slumping like-for-like sales.
But it is not Debenhams’ focus on its in-store fashion that looks likely to be the salve – chief executive Rob Templeman wants Spindler to lead an online push in the battle to win fashion plaudits.
Templeman told Retail Week that he wants to expand Debenhams’ online operation “much faster” than thought originally, spearheaded by Spindler. He wants the web site to become Debenhams’ biggest store in the next two to three years.
And Spindler may be well suited to the task. At the time of Spindler’s departure from George in August, citing family reasons, she was set to develop the Wal-Mart-owned grocer’s clothing label online.
With online spending leading the field this Christmas and set to reach£16 billion in 2007, up 35 per cent on 2006, according to the BRC, Templeman is wise to look to the channel for a fashion recovery.
Combine that with a lacklustre response from the City to Debenhams’£150 million store refurbishments and rivals’ online success – John Lewis’ e-commerce site outperformed its Oxford Street flagship store last month and House of Fraser’s site, launched only two months ago, is in the top 30 of its best performing stores already – and it is practically a necessity.
However, Spindler’s appointment has raised eyebrows, as well as speculation that she is being groomed as Templeman’s successor – which Templeman denies. However, industry insiders point to potentially disgruntled Debenhams chief operating officer Michael Sharp, who appears to have been sidelined.
Fashion is not Templeman’s forte – his background is at Halfords, Homebase and Harveys, but Sharp’s career spans various fashion roles at the Burton Group, including managing director of Principles and Racing Green and buying and merchandising director of Topshop and Topman.
Elsewhere, former Topshop executives Shepherdson and Fenn are planning a shake-up of one of the UK’s major fashion groups, as Retail Week magazine will reveal tomorrow.
Things are certainly not all quiet on the fashion front.