DESCRIBED by the chairman of the British Fashion Council, Harold Tillman CBE, as “the queen of retail”, Belinda Earl is respected for her ability to revive tired high street brands.
Known in the industry for being talented and down-to-earth – former M&S chairman Stuart Rose has described her as “very hands-on and diligent … a nice person in what is a bitchy environment” – Earl helped create the famous Designers at Debenhams range, persuading established high-fashion names including Jasper Conran to take a career gamble and design collections for the high street.
Today the range boasts more than 20 of the country’s top designers (including Conran, who has been working for the department store for 16 years) and is described by Debenhams as “the most successful exclusive designer/retailer collaboration in the world”.
After leaving Debenhams in 2003, Earl was approached by Tillman in 2004 to take control of Jaeger, a long-established, traditional brand which he had recently rescued from the brink of collapse. She gave the label a high-fashion edge, showing it on the catwalk, attracting younger customers and placing products in magazines like Vogue and Grazia.
The new direction saw the business returning to profit, and when Tillman acquired the tired old luxury label Aquascutum in 2009, Earl was the obvious choice to revive it. However, the financial crisis hit both companies hard, with Aquascutum going into administration earlier this year and Jaeger being sold to a private equity firm.
With her experience with very established, very British brands which cater to a range of ages and budgets, Earl is an obvious choice for M&S, who described her as having a “unique insight into British style”. With its non-food sales having fallen 6.8 per cent in the 13 weeks to 30 June she will have her work cut out, but she may be the best woman for what could be a very tricky job.
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Friday 24 May 2013
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