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This week in history...

Reiss postponed its womenswear launch, the miner’s strike hit sales at M&S and Bhs, and a lingerie designer made aviation history.

1999…

High street women’s tailoring sales were on the slide, according to Drapers on May 8 1999, as shoppers opted for a more relaxed look.

Figures from consultancy firm Taylor Nelson Sofres’ Fashion Trak for the 12 weeks to March 14 1999 showed that sales of suits fell by 20%, while cardigans rose by 20%.

Mark Steyne, managing director of tailoring label Sticky Fingers, said it had been one of the toughest spring seasons he could remember. “It has been a really awkward start to the season. People are not so suiting-oriented these days,” he said.

As a result of the dip in sales, tailoring was being discounted on the high street, including £10 off jackets and £5 off matching trousers at Dorothy Perkins.

A design team director for a high street supplier said knitwear (a cardigan by Warehouse is pictured) was selling well thanks to fabric innovations and a trend for colour.

Also in the news was menswear retailer Reiss, which said it was postponing its plans to launch a womenswear offer.

The chain originally trialled womenswear in the 1980s, but Ratko Backo, head of brand and business development, said Reiss was still trying to recruit a design team for the relaunch, but that that it would definitely happen for autumn 2000.

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1985…

The potential impact of legalised Sunday trading on employment was discussed in the May 11 1985 issue of Drapers.

Trade unions feared that Sunday opening would force retailers to become more labour efficient, leading to the loss of thousands of jobs. However, retailers in favour of Sunday trading believed more jobs would be created by the move.

Malcolm Parkinson, chairman of the Federation of Multiple DIY Retailers, which commissioned a report on the issue ahead of a parliamentary debate, said: “Businesses would not open on Sunday if they did not expect a sales increase, and that would create more jobs.”  

Home Secretary Leon Brittan was due to announce a decision on Sunday trading following the government debate.

Also in this issue, Marks & Spencer and British Home Stores (Bhs) announced their year-end trading results, with pre-tax profits up 10.5% and 8.6% respectively.

However, the impact of the miner’s strike hit sales – Bhs reckoned it had lost between £3 million and £5m due to the strike, while M&S estimated it had cost it £24m in turnover. 

M&S chairman Lord Rayner was bullish about the chain’s future prospects, saying the retailer had “got it right” with the introduction of phased deliveries and a more leisure-focused revamp of kidswear.  

Meanwhile, Bhs chief executive Maurice Hodgson was alarmed by a major rise in shop thefts, which were, he said, “a major obstacle in providing value for money.”

Drapers also reported on a revamp of Colchester town, where the £25m Culver Precinct project was set to bring retailers including Debenhams to the town, which already boasted the Lion Walk shopping centre (pictured).

Jim Wellerd, secretary of the town’s chamber of trade, said: “The town will take off.”  

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1954…

Cloth & Clothes, the monthly menswear magazine later incorporated into Drapers, visited menswear retailers in London’s West End for its May 1954 edition to discover the best-selling pieces snapped up by visitors from overseas.

The West End, dubbed “The Man’s Mile”, was said to have the greatest concentration of men’s tailoring and outfitting shops in the world.

Retailers on streets such as Savile Row (“still rather battered by the bombs”), Sackville Street, Dover Street, Burlington Arcade and Jermyn Street were asked which pieces were their most requested items with shoppers from overseas.

First stop was Savoy Taylors’ Guild on The Strand, where staff member RCS Knight (pictured) showed off the store’s most popular item, a cashmere slipover by Braemer.

At Sefton Gray on Brook Street, tailoring manager GF Francis (pictured) said the store’s overseas visitors were mostly American, and that the best-selling cloths were a pure medium-weight lambswool in two shades of green, Royal Stuart tartan and Donegal hand-woven tweed.

Harrods on Knightsbridge singled out a two-piece single breasted suit in Scotch cheviot tweed, which it said was a style in great demand among its customers.

Finally, at Austin Reed on Regent Street, visitors from India and Russia were proving particularly fond of a luxury cashmere box coat.

Another impressive photo spread in this issue looked at trend-setting men seen at the 1954 Cannes Film Festival, examples of which are pictured.

1919…

A trailblazing woman was one of the week’s big stories in Drapers on May 10 1919. Madame Venn (pictured), a lingerie and petticoat designer who worked out of showrooms on Conduit Street, central London, was hailed as the first woman to fly on commercial business in England. 

Drapers caught up with her at her showrooms to hear the details of Mme Venn’s “plucky flight”.

“Many women would have wavered in their decision to undertake such a journey,” wrote Drapers, “when they saw the machine they were to fly in and what the weather outlook promised.”

However, Mme Venn was made of stern stuff, and was determined to leave London early in the morning and fly to Manchester in time to be in her stockroom at 10am, before returning to London at 6pm.

After having her ticket stamped, Mme Venn clambered aboard the Avro airplane, and was soon airborne. “Did you feel nervous as you saw the earth receding?” asked Drapers. “Not in the least,” Mme Venn replied. “Only a dreadful feeling of breathlessness, whilst the cold was terrible.”

Unfortunately, Mme Venn never reached Manchester, with the bad weather forcing her pilot to land in Rugby, Warwickshire. She was undeterred however, vowing to return for another attempt.

Usefully, she dispensed some fashion tips for aspiring female flyers. “When I undertake my next flight I intend to be more suitably clothed from head to foot. I shall see to it that I have cosy ear lappets and a hat, and that my nethermost portions are appropriately and sufficiently clad.”

Among the latest fashions spotlighted in this issue were the “jazz” hose (pictured), shown by TH Downing & Co at The Fashion Exhibition in London. Coming in artificial silk, the style “created quite a sensation among hosiery buyers,” reported Drapers.

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