Better product and a reinvigorated designer roster will help Debenhams weather the challenges facing the UK high street, chief executive Sergio Bucher has said.
An upbeat Bucher was optimistic about the upcoming autumn 18 season, describing it as an opportunity to show customers the department store’s new focus on fashion and quality.
The Debenhams boss has previously admitted the retailer’s clothing offer “wasn’t good enough” in the first half of this year, resulting in a drop in sales and profits. It issued a profit warning last month as it continues to battle “an exceptionally difficult market”. Pre-tax profits for the year are now expected to reach £35-£45m, compared with previous estimates of £50.3m
Brands within the retailer’s long-standing Designers at Debenhams stable have been given a clearer handwriting to help distinguish them from the retailer’s core label offering. Designers at Debenhams currently includes Jenny Packham, Julien Macdonald and Matthew Williamson, as well as new addition Richard Quinn. A second collection with Quinn, who was awarded the inaugural Queen Elizabeth II Award for British Design earlier this year, will follow in October.
“It is about bringing in fresh designers and allowing them to stay true to who they are, rather than working with the same designer for twenty years,” Bucher told Drapers. “It might be for a season, or a couple of seasons. We’d also ‘Debenhamised’ some of the collections too much and now it is about working with the designers on what they do best. Look at Julien Macdonald – we bought in new KPIs for our designers, one of which looks at social media followings. He has a huge following, he dresses people like Jennifer Lopez, Kim Kardashian and [model] Jourdan Dunn. We’re allowing customers to get as close as possible to that look at an affordable price.”
Key pieces for autumn 18 include a black lace and silver sequin full-length dress from Star by Julien Macdonald, which will retail for £150, a midnight-blue sequinned party dress from Studio by Preen for £120, and a No1 by Jenny Packham raspberry tie-waist jumpsuit for £130.
Debenhams will concentrate on giving customers “true value for money”, Bucher added, pointing to the success of a silk maxi dress the Studio By Preen collection.
“That wasn’t a cheap product, but we sold out at full price because it was silk, it was amazing quality and it was a designer dress for £200. The same was true of our Richard Quinn collection.”
The retailer will also open a 113,000 sq ft anchor store at the Intu Watford Shopping Centre later this year.
“The new store will be the culmination of months of testing,” said Bucher. “That’s where you’ll see all our thinking come together. Our new beauty hall concept is very exciting. We’ve rethought what a beauty hall should be and how we can connect with the digital beauty community.”