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This week in history...

The Oxford/Regent Street area’s influence concerned retailers, Moss Bros targeted brides-to-be, and the Fayed brothers were rumoured to be selling House of Fraser.

1909…

The growing trading influence of the Oxford Street and Regent Street area of London came under scrutiny in Drapers on April 17 1909, prompted by the previous month’s arrival on Oxford Street of Selfridges and the fact that the growing use of tube trains and motor buses was bringing more shoppers into the area from the suburbs.  

“Is the area absorbing more and more of the public money to the detriment of the district and suburban draper?” asked Drapers. Although it pointed out that anyone who asked this question would almost always answer “yes”, the magazine decided to take a closer look at the evidence to see if this was really true.

With most of the big retailers in the area being limited companies, Drapers was able to acquire their annual reports for the past eight years to see if the profits for those stores in the “magic circle” area of Oxford/Regent Street were increasing year on year, and then compare them to retailers outside the area. 

The results were surprising, showing that, if anything, retailers in the Oxford/Regent Street area including Dickins & Jones, Swan & Edgar and Liberty had shown only slight progress year on year, with nothing to suggest that district and suburban retailers need be alarmed. Indeed, some retailers showed both rises and falls in profits over the years. 

In contrast, for the three big department stores just outside the area – Whiteley’s, Harrods and John Barker’s – profits had shown continual progress over the eight years.

The reasons for this were unclear, said Drapers, but it speculated that “it may be that the traders in the Oxford Street zone are so closely packed together that competition between them is keener than in the case of the other three big stores.”

It concluded that the suburban retailer could be consoled by the fact that “the competition he has to face is apparently not so flourishing as common report states.” 

1938…

In the April 14 1938 issue of The Outfitter (later incorporated into Drapers), a novel advertising scheme by menswear retailer Moss Bros aroused interest.

It was reported that the London Covent Garden retailer had heard of a publication called Bride’s Book, aimed at brides-to-be.

Moss Bros took the opportunity to advertise its hire service and catalogue in Bride’s Book. Advertisers in the publication could then ask to be forwarded the addresses of the readers of Bride’s Book, and Moss Bros was quick to seize its chance, reported The Outfitter.

“Almost in the next post to which the book has arrived the bride-elect finds a letter from [Moss Bros] on her doormat.

“No small part of her duties, she is told, is to outwit the efforts of the male to avoid wearing a morning coat.”

The Moss Bros letter then related the possible excuses the groom may come up with, including “he forgot to pack it”, and “the moths have eaten it”.

The final paragraph of the letter then pointed out how Moss Bros could help in the matter, and suggested that any bride-to-be should “make tactful inquiries among the male contingent to learn what are their intentions regarding dress”.

The Outfitter was suitably impressed, saying: “Here is certainly a subtle way of telling the young woman that she should have a real influence on her husband’s dress.”

Also in this issue, a picture story reported that department store Allders in Croydon, Surrey, had cleared its main windows to make way for “a special shirt show” (pictured). The slogan “Stop! Save!”, was incorporated into a traffic-light design on the reverse of slowly revolving price discs.

“The movement in the window was remarkably effective in making people stop and the business result was good also,” reported The Outfitter.

1959…

The Midland Drapery Company in Derby achieved a promotional first in the April 18 1959 issue of Drapers.

It was reported that the store had launched “an intensive point-of-sale drive on fashions, textiles and other goods as are being advertised on commercial television in the Midlands”.

ATV, the regional ITV channel for the Midlands, supported the store by providing display units and publicity material, while every window and in store displays were devoted to TV-advertised merchandise featuring stickers and posters.

The store’s general manager, JM Grice, said the 14-day promotion was vital to “harness the effect of suppliers’ advertising to the needs of the retail,” pointing out that it was too expensive for a store to advertise extensively on television.

Also in this issue was a look at mid-seasonal women’s suit styles, in which “cardigan jackets, leather belts and a growing emphasis on collars are three style points to note in last-minute additions to current suit ranges.” Pictured is an illustration of a double jersey jacket and skirt by Doree Boutique.

1989…

The Fayed brothers, owners of House of Fraser, were rumoured to be about to sell up in the April 15 1989 issue of Drapers.

Plans to integrate London department store Dickins & Jones into the House of Fraser buying and accounting policy, revealed in a letter to suppliers, triggered speculation over the reasons for the move.

House of Fraser managing director Robb Hampson told staff that for the long-term profitability of Dickins & Jones it needed to become part of House of Fraser.

Drapers wrote that, as Dickins & Jones “is one of the most profitable stores in London, its ‘long term profitability’ seems a strange reason for change. A more likely reason, the City has speculated on in the past, is that the Fayed brothers intend to make it profitable and sell all but Harrods.”

The Dickins & Jones store, reported Drapers, “has some of the top perfumery and fashion buyers in the UK. Whether they are content to be ‘integrated’ remains to be seen”. The store’s managing director, David Jaggs, was expected to lose his job.

Finally, Drapers said it had learnt that senior management considered itself “ill informed” on company strategy.

A feature further on in the issue looked at the efforts of Finnish women’s lifestyle brands Marimekko and Piretta PTA to raise their profiles in the UK market.

With the lifestyle concept being all the rage in 1980s retail, Drapers wondered why the two brands had not made greater headway in the UK.

While praising the quality and production values of the two brands, it criticised Marimekko for being “bound up in a time capsule”, adding that it must “redefine and strengthen, edit and better target its products”.

Piretta PTA (pictured) meanwhile, was flush with the success of winning Finland’s top export award, and its rising sales to overseas markets – up 20% - appeared to indicate that this was the brand most likely to crack the UK market. 

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