SHE has a wealth of experience in the world of fashion and is said to have a “unique insight” into British style.
But retail guru Belinda Earl may face her toughest challenge yet after she was given the job of revitalising the clothing ranges at Marks & Spencer.
As it emerged that its non-food sales fell 6.8 per cent in the quarter to the end of June, the iconic British retailer announced its secret weapon in the shape of Ms Earl. She will become style director at M&S from September, though she will only work two or three days a week.
M&S said: “Belinda, ex-CEO of Debenhams, Jaeger and Aquascutum, has a unique insight into British style and a wealth of experience across all categories of clothing and general merchandise.”
Born in Plymouth, Ms Earl, 50, a mother of two young sons, began her career in retail as a Saturday worker at Debenhams.
After studying business and management at Aberystwyth University, she turned down a job with a major accountancy firm and went to Harrods, where she worked as a junior buyer.
M&S chief executive Marc Bolland said of Ms Earl: “She is a highly experienced retailer and her product knowledge and judgment will complement [new head of merchandise] John Dixon’s expertise. We are delighted that she has chosen to join us in this new role.”
Ms Earl is best known for her role at Debenhams, wich she developed into a fashion outlet by forging relationships with top designers including Jasper Conran and John Rocha. She worked her way up to become chief executive, leaving the chain in 2003 when it was bought for £1.7 billion by a private consortium.
She then teamed up with Harold Tillman at Aquascutum and Jaeger in an effort to revive the luxury brands. However, both struggled during the retail downturn.
Aquascutum collapsed into administration earlier this year and Jaeger was sold to a private equity firm owned by British venture capitalist Jon Moulton, for £19.5 million. Ms Earl left Jaeger in March, citing illness.
But Marks & Spencer said she was fully recovered and ready to take up her new job.
Her biggest challenges at M&S will be to steer the retailer towards a younger audience and to help develop its online presence. However, some analysts questioned whether she would be able to tackle such major projects in a part-time post.
Neil Saunders, director of Conlumino retail analysts, said: “M&S needs someone with real expertise in fashion. A big part of the problem on womenswear is that it misses the mark in terms of providing what modern consumers want. The offer is confused and lacks any real sense of cohesion or targeting.
“It won’t be easy, however. M&S is nowhere near as nimble as Jaeger and turning around the clothing offer will be like trying to turn around an oil tanker.
“It’s a big job and the fact that Earl seems to only be dedicating two to three days a week raises the question of how long it will take for her to have a positive impact on the business.”
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