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Review of the Year

Price hikes, acquisitions, a British manufacturing revival and a royal wedding, and all amid an economic downturn. We round up the best and worst of 2011.

Test your knowledge of the year’s big fashion news here

The year began with, well, the end of an era, as the charismatic Marks & Spencer boss Sir Stuart Rose stepped down as executive chairman after almost seven years at the retailer. It was a low-key exit – Rose was in Australia watching the Ashes cricket – and contrasted with his high-profile arrival in May 2004.

Also in January, high street retailers warned that prices could continue to increase in 2011, as a result of rising cotton prices. The likes of Next and Moss Bros expected to push prices up in the second half of the year, but most retailers also agreed that a bright spot would come after Easter, following a slow start to the year. Indeed, just one month later, in February, Drapers reported that cotton prices hit an all-time high as demand from China, coupled with shrinking global supplies of the commodity, continued. The price of cotton went above $2 (£1.24) a pound for the first time.

Closer to home, Drapers launched its Save Our Skills (SOS) campaign, after many UK factories and mills contacted us to complain about a skills gap in UK manufacturing. A renewed interest in ‘Made in Britain’ was, of course, welcomed by all, but many businesses were struggling to satisfy demand due to a lack of skilled staff.

By lobbying the Government and holding industry debates, Drapers’ SOS campaign has thrived throughout 2011. We visited the factories of Barbour, New Balance, Pantherella and even Karen Millen’s atelier in London, and will continue to promote the campaign next year.

One retailer that hasn’t thrived this year is the beleaguered New Look. Its chief executive Carl McPhail was ousted at the beginning of March before founder Tom Singh was parachuted back into the business. New Look’s relocation from Weymouth to London meant the fast-fashion retailer took its eye off both  product and pricing. As a result, Singh reinstated group buying director Roger Wightman and persuaded design director Barbara Horspool not to defect to Oasis

But enough of the bad news. The moment the industry was waiting for finally arrived in April in the form of the royal wedding. Prince William  married Kate Middleton, who cemented her authority on the fashion industry by wearing an Alexander McQueen gown designed by its creative director Sarah Burton. Her bridesmaid and sister Pippa, also dressed by Burton, arguably stole the show, but together the two boosted sales for brands in retailers, from occasionwear right through to, quite frankly, anything they put on.

Although not an official royal, Mary ‘Queen of Shops’ Portas saw her status elevated to government adviser in May, after Prime Minister David Cameron controversially drafted her in to lead a review of the future of the high street. Many welcomed the move, while others accused the Government of PR spin. For the results of her review, see our News section in this issue.

The following month saw one of 2011’s most unusual retail takeovers; the acquisition of Jane Norman by Edinburgh Woollen Mill, purveyor of fleeces for the over-50s. Chief executive Philip Day suddenly became a name to know in fashion and his plans for the struggling chain are ambitious; he wants to add between 50 and 70 stores over the next 15 months to the 63 he retained.

A less surprising, but equally high-profile deal came in July, when sportswear tycoon Mike Ashley launched an attack on the branded premium market, splashing out £7m to buy an 80% stake in young fashion retailer USC and designer mini-chain Cruise. Constant speculation that he has his eyes on indie Van Mildert will do little to reassure brands, who are not convinced about the wisdom of the move.

Staying with sportswear, JD Sports Fashion was one of the retailers hit hardest by the riots that began in north London in August and spread throughout the UK, with youths looting stores including Miss Selfridge, Debenhams, Diesel and several indies, such as Wolverhampton menswear indie Le Monde. JD’s damages were in the region of £10m, while the riots were understood to have left those affected footing a bill of more than £100m.

Cash was ploughed into the UK’s most high-profile shopping centre openings this year, as Westfield Stratford City opened its doors in September. The £1.45bn mall welcomed 160,000 shoppers to the 1.9 million sq ft space on opening day, as stores fought for shoppers’ cash with freebies. Among the retailers in the centre was All Saints, but the rift between chairman Kevin Stanford and chief executive Stephen Craig led to the former stepping down from his role in September. A replacement was yet to be found as Drapers went to press, but rumours that Craig could be reinstated were circulating.

Craig’s departure surprised many, but it was nowhere near as shocking as the news that Primark would open concessions in two branches of Selfridges. As one Twitterer commented: “What next? A hot dog stand in Harrods?” But according to both businesses, the menswear concessions have been performing well since launch.

From multiples to indies, and in November Paul Turner-Mitchell, owner of young fashion indie 25 Ten in Rochdale, launched a campaign on credit insurance after a number of insurance firms pulled credit insurance, meaning brands were cutting the length of time indies have to pay for products by half or more. Within a week, Turner-Mitchell took the issue to his MP, Labour’s Simon Danczuk, who raised it in Parliament following the Chancellor’s autumn statement. His move coincided with the launch of Drapers’ Inspiring Independents supplement, which will be unveiled next February.

Talking of accolades, the Drapers Fashion Awards, which celebrated the best of the UK fashion industry, were the big news in November. Notable winners included department store Harrods, lifestyle retailer White Stuff, and contemporary womenswear indie The Dressing Room. Former Debenhams chief executive Rob Templeman was awarded the Lifetime Achievement award and former fashion director of The Daily Telegraph Hilary Alexander took home the Outstanding Contribution to Fashion award. Brand category winners included womenswear brand Darling and menswear brand Farah Vintage.

A big question now hangs over the  Christmas trading period. Many say it will come late and price promotions have started earlier than normal, so here’s to a happy and hopefully prosperous 2012. 

Ups and downs

Going up

Weddings Kate Middleton wore the dress of the decade by Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen, prompting a surge in occasionwear sales.

Made in Britain Demand for home-grown products has soared this year, which also saw the launch of Drapers’ Save Our Skills (SOS) campaign.

Colour Bright oranges, jewel tones and rich shades dominated spring and autumn this year, and the trend for colour is set to continue into 2012.

Christopher Kane

Christopher Kane

Flats Will fashion turn sensible for spring 12? Marc Jacobs, Christopher Kane and Paul Smith all showed flat shoes for next season.

Going down

Minimalism The reign of Phoebe Philo, Céline’s queen of the crisp white shirt and camel coat, came to an end this year, as print-on-print and bright colours stole the show.



Dresses Cool kids are wearing separates now, and that’s set to continue into 2012.

The festival look We’ve seen enough daisy-chain hairbands to last a lifetime, so not sure what DSquared was doing on its spring 12 catwalk – it’s so last season.

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