What did ousted M&S clothing boss change at the embattled retailer?

Taking on the top fashion job at M&S was never going to be an easy one. The brand’s trajectory from high-street kingpin to a retailer struggling to keep up has been regrettably documented, as has its numerous changes in strategy.

During Jill McDonald’s tenure, it seemed to have a reactive stance which responded to wider industry calls for consistent looks that generate brand loyalty and contribute towards a more sustainable approach to buying clothes.

M&S ousts fashion boss Jill McDonald

Where in previous years the brand banked on cultish items – such as a popular pink coat and suede skirt – to bring customers through the doors, McDonald’s team focused on helping women find their personal style. They promised to help people build on it collection after collection, rather than frantically chase the latest trends every six months.

At the last press preview in January McDonald’s team seemed to be on the right track aesthetically and logistically, saying that, “we can’t be in a place where it’s just [about] one trophy item”, adding that the focus was on “wardrobing” rather than “outfitting”.

A key part of this was the denim range which expanded to incorporate new sizes, silhouettes and technologies. Although M&S is the market leader in fashion retail, it acknowledged that it needed to set the pace more. So it was a big blow that when the demand for a jeans promotion came, supply was not there.

McDonald’s simpler approach extended to streamlining the in-house brands from five to three distinctive labels – Per Una, Autograph and M&S Collection – and enlisting the TV presenter and fashion influencer Holly Willoughby to help reach younger shoppers.

It was a strategy that in many ways took the retailer back to its fashion roots, albeit one that would inevitably take time to deliver fruit. It’s time that has just run out for McDonald – the question is now, how much time is left for M&S?

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