Less than a month since Marks and Spencer’s Head of General Merchandise, John Dixon, announced his shock departure (after 26 years with the business), the British retailer’s Womenswear Director has also left.
Frances Russell was tasked with the challenge of turning the high street bellwether’s Womenswear division around. She was assumed the best person for the job nearly three years ago after she showed promise looking after buying and merchandising across lingerie, followed by a 2 year stint with beauty. Russell has a strong womenswear background, having served as Brand Director of plus-size fashion retailer Evans and menswear specialist Burton. Prior to that she was with the Burton group for 14 years, bringing to M&S a rather unrivalled understanding of the supply chain, as well as buying, merchandising and trading experience.
But Britain’s biggest clothing retailer has been struggling with its womenswear category for four years, with declines every quarter bar one in April this year. When Chief Exec Marc Bolland revealed the company’s annual profits some weeks later, he described the underachieving performance of the non-food business over the previous 12 months as “not good enough”.
Russell will be replaced by Jo Jenkins who, like Russell once did, heads up the lingerie and beauty division, including the majorly successful ranges by British model Rosie Huntington-Whitely.
It is understood that Steve Rowe, former Head of Food and Dixon’s replacement, made an internal announcement to senior staff on Tuesday afternoon in which he said there should be better collaboration within M&S’s womenswear department.
An M&S spokesperson said: “We are pleased to promote Jo Jenkins into the expanded role of Director of Womenswear, Lingerie & Beauty. She has a wealth of experience, with excellent product knowledge and great customer understanding. Frances Russell has left the business. We’d like to thank her for her significant contribution to M&S and wish her all the best for the future.”
M&S controls around 10% of the UK’s fashion market but the problem with having all that clothing space is that there’s a strong need to appeal to a wide demographic, but the retailer has been criticised in the past for focusing its efforts on older consumers.
The senior management shake-up comes amid speculation that Bolland will not be with the retailer for much longer, raising questions about his replacement.