On the face of it, Maddy Evans has executed an astute escape plan by swapping her role as fashion director at Topshop for the task of revitalising M&S’s clothing offer.
Topshop, lest we forget, is set to wield the axe on 170 head office jobs as part of its proposed CVA and while there’s no suggestion that Evans’s job is under immediate threat the relative security offered by a senior role at M&S will have been hard to resist.
I say relative because M&S has well-publicised problems of its own to address. News of Evans’s appointment comes in the wake of last week’s decision by M&S to part company with Jill McDonald who became the latest casualty of the retailer’s perennial struggle to breathe new life into its clothing and home division.
Clothing sales, in particular, continue to slide, down 3.6% in the year to March 30, and while McDonald won praise from boss Steve Rowe for recruiting a talented team and improving the quality and style of product, ultimately the weak numbers – exacerbated by poor buying and availability – told their own story.
Evans will come into the business a level below McDonald with Rowe taking temporary responsibility for its clothing and home division. This affords her a little more freedom than McDonald whose performance was under scrutiny from the moment she took on the job back in October 2017 given her lack of fashion experience.
Evans, on the contrary, has fashion in her DNA having studied at the world-renowned Central Saint Martins’ College in London whose alumni include designers Alexander McQueen and John Galliano.
She has spent the past ten years ascending through the ranks at Topshop becoming head of buying in 2009, then buying director in 2012 before being promoted to fashion director in 2015.
With her credible background in fashion and keen eye for the latest trends (in April Topshop launched its first vegan shoe collection), Evans is as well qualified as anyone to target the younger consumer M&S is so desperate to attract.
But for more sceptical commentators, her appointment will provide yet more evidence of M&S continuing to chase a consumer demographic that it surrendered long ago to trendier high street and online fashion brands.
In the aftermath of McDonald’s exit the familiar calls for M&S to refocus on providing a compelling offer for its core over 50 market were doing the rounds on forums and in the mainstream media.
It’s both a blessing and a curse for M&S that the affection in which it is held means its strategy promotes such vigorous debate.
Evans should be under no illusions that she can keep all of the critics happy all of the time. In fact, the more you think about it this looks less like an escape plan and more a case of out of the frying pan into the fire.