M&S dreams hit by departure of ‘knicker queen’

Model and actress Rosie Huntington'Whiteley launched a lingerie collection in partnership with M&S. Picture: PA
Model and actress Rosie Huntington'Whiteley launched a lingerie collection in partnership with M&S. Picture: PA
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Marks & Spencer chief executive Marc Bolland has suffered a serious setback in his efforts to build a “dream team” of clothing industry stars after “knicker queen” Janie Schaffer resigned as director of lingerie and beauty after just three months in the role.

Schaffer, the former chief creative officer at US lingerie firm Victoria’s Secret, joined M&S at the start of the year.

Bolland had heralded her appointment as the completion of an “exciting” general merchandise team, which had been bolstered in September with the addition of Belinda Earl, formerly of Debenhams and Jaeger, who was drafted in to revitalise the group’s womenswear ranges.

However, figures last week showed sales of non-food products, spanning clothing, footwear and homewares, fell by 3.8 per cent during the three months to 30 March as M&S came under pressure amid the consumer downturn and tough competition from the likes of H&M and Next.

M&S refused to comment on the reasons behind Schaffer’s resignation, which is understood to have been tendered last week. A spokeswoman also decline to elaborate on what steps were being taken to fill the vacant position.

Schaffer, right, reported to former M&S food boss John Dixon, who was handed the role of general merchandise director as part of Bolland’s turnaround plans. Dixon replaced high-flyer Kate Bostock, who left in October and has since taken the top job at Asos, the fast-growing internet fashion store.

Dubbed the “knicker queen” following her role in the launch of lingerie chain Knickerbox in 1986, Schaffer replaced Frances Russell, a former director of Sir Philip Green’s Arcadia retail empire, who was promoted to the position of womenswear director, and her departure is seen as a serious blow to Bolland’s attempts to improve the group’s fashion performance.

Announcing her appointment in November, Bolland said: “We have been able to establish a team that combines the best of M&S experience with exciting, new, external talent. Their impact will start to come through when we launch our autumn/winter collections in July.”

Commenting on last week’s trading update, David Cumming, head of equities at Standard Life Investments, said Bolland needed to get those ranges right to show that his management changes had made the right impact.

Cumming said: “I think the market will wait to see how that range is going to work. If that is poor, then he’ll be under a lot of pressure.”

Sources in the City said yesterday’s development was “not a good sign” for M&S, which managed to grow its food sales by 4 per cent during the fourth quarter as it benefited from record Easter trading.

Although the retailer commands an estimated 11 per cent of the womenswear market, it has struggled to compete with high street and online rivals, despite last year’s launch of a range of 1920s-style lingerie designed by model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley.

According to Verdict Research, sales of lingerie and pyjamas account for almost one third of total clothing revenues at M&S.

The group suffered its first fall in annual profits for three years during the year to March 2012, with underlying pre-tax profits dipping 1 per cent to £705.9 million.