What’s Jigsaw’s place on the high street? Who is its customer? What does the brand stand for? After spending the best part of an hour trying - and failing - to answer those questions, it became clear just how genius Peter Ruis’s appointment as chief executive really is.
Because Ruis will answer those questions for us. Look at his record at John Lewis. When he joined the department store in 2005, no-one shopped there for fashion, for proper fashion. A pair of slippers, a bathrobe, a good-quality jumper, yes, but a knock-out dress? A sharp suit? Not so much.
Ruis changed all that. He saw (before M&S did, thus allowing John Lewis to steal market share) that a 40-something customer cares about the right silhouette, the perfect neckline, an exact shade of orange. That he wants quality design; that she wants novelty.
Ruis understood the psyche of the John Lewis shopper so he tapped into it to perfection with those tear-jerking Christmas ads. Ruis turned John Lewis into the high street’s fashion benchmark.
Now he needs to revive Jigsaw.
But Ruis needs to be given complete autonomy to do so. There are still question marks over the roles of Charles Atterton and John Robinson, both co-chair and co-chief executive since the departure of Des Swan in 2011, but I can’t imagine Ruis would have taken on the chief executive role without executive control. He’s too clever and autonomous for that.
The challenge for Ruis at Jigsaw will be different. At John Lewis, he created fashion credentials that the department store never had; at Jigsaw the process will be one of revival or reinvention - arguably a more difficult feat.
Jane Shepherdson once said to me that she thought buying an existing brand would be easier than launching a new one, but wasn’t so sure anymore after buying Whistles. And she’ll be the first to admit that it took a few years to get the retailer to where she wanted. Look at it now.
Jigsaw is a brand with a great heritage and brilliant potential. Ruis is the man to show us just how much. As Lucy Harris, partner at Heidrick & Struggles, who first placed Ruis at John Lewis, said to me: “Peter could make that brand fantastic. And global. He went to John Lewis when it needed a focus on fashion and everything he touched, he gave it that quantum leap.”