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This week in history...

The Sears group moved closer to its final break-up, Burton rejected rumours its Principles chain was in trouble, and M&S created a method for putting durable creases in trousers.

1999…

The break-up of the Sears group was documented in the June 5 1999 issue of Drapers, with management buyout bids emerging for several of the chains that had been bought by Sir Philip Green’s investment vehicle January Investments Ltd just five months earlier.

Wallis was the subject of a £90m management buyout bid, while a £50m bid for Warehouse was being led by managing director Yasmin Yusuf. A bid had already been tabled for kidswear chain Adams, leaving the three remaining businesses – Miss Selfridge, Richards and Outfit, which Seymour Pierce analyst Richard Ratner valued together at more than £350m.

Added to the already realised sale of Creation Financial Services for £140m in January and the sale of catalogue retailer Freemans for £150m to German mail order firm Otto Group, Green and his fellow investors, including the Barclay Brothers and entrepreneur Sir Tom Hunter, were heading for a tidy profit on the £549m they paid to acquire Sears in January 1999.

New Look also took over from Dorothy Perkins as the UK’s largest single womenswear retailer by market share, winning 3% of the entire womenswear market, while a new internet site, Boo.com, vowed to become the Amazon of the clothing retail market.

Boo.com, backed by an estimated £78.1m from investors including LVMH chairman Bernard Arnault and the Benetton family, was due to launch at the end of the month targeting customers aged between 20 and 35 focusing on sports fashion, with brands including DKNY Active, New Balance and Fila.

1985…

The Burton Group rejected rumours that its Principles womenswear chain was in trouble in the June 8, 1985 edition of Drapers.

The chain, which was launched in September 1984 in a bid to capture the affluent over-25s market, had 37 stores. However, after Principles stock was spotted in the Peter Robinson department store in London’s Oxford Circus at huge reductions, speculation mounted that the chain was in serious trouble.

A spokeswoman admitted to some “teething problems”, but she added that it was to be “expected after just nine months of trading”. She went on to explain that the “subtle” look of Principles’ product meant it hadn’t been accepted in some parts of the country, but the design direction was “spot on”. The business vowed to bring more of its design process in-house.

Drapers suggested the problems could centre on the chain’s “exclusive concentration on the affluent working woman, rather than casting a wider net, Next-style.”

Elsewhere this week, Drapers analysed the impact made by Danish entrepreneur Peter Bertelsen. After winning licences to open eight stores in London for designer brands including Giorgio Armani and Valentino, Bertelsen ramped up his efforts to build a fashion empire by setting up a wholesale firm to market designer collections in the UK.

Bertelsen had ruffled the feathers of London retailers in building his store portfolio. Designer indie Browns had sold Giorgio Armani for 10 years before Bertelsen won exclusivity on the brand by striking a deal to open a Giorgio Armani store on Bond Street, while retailers that had successfully sold the Krizia label were then told that only Harvey Nichols and Bertelsen’s new Gallery 28 store, due to open on Brook Street at the end of July, would be the only UK stockists.

1959…

The June 6 1959 issue of Menswear (later incorporated into Drapers) hailed Marks & Spencer’s invention of a new finish on wool cloths that would allow a durable crease to be put on men’s trousers without the use of chemicals.

M&S created the method in conjunction with Proban, a subsidiary of The Bradford Dyers’ Association, which hoped to license it to other cloth finishers under the name Immacula.

Australian firm CSIRO invented the Si-Ro-Set process in 1957, allowing the permanent creation of pleats using chemicals at the “making up stage” of production. However, M&S and Proban hoped the chemical-free nature of Immacula, and the fact that it could be applied by the use of ordinary steam presses at the finishing stage of production, would hand it an advantage over Si-Ro-Set.

Also arousing interest this week was the opening of menswear retailer Mensfayre at Station Bridge in Ilford, Essex. After deciding that men were put off from making a purchase when unable to immediately see the item they required, Mensfayre dreamt up the ploy of putting “practically every item of stock on display”, merchandised according to price and size.

1921…

The “merrie month of May” passed by without the “London season” regaining any of its pre-First World War splendour, wrote Drapers on June 4 1921, as it lamented “the industrial changes” and the changing of the old order, meaning that “those who used to make the London season no longer come.”

However, amid the gloom, Drapers cast an eye over what womenswear trends the city did have to offer. With the events season on the horizon, frocks for Ascot were using painted georgette, usually blue or grey with yellow, blue or pink florals. Lace was also prominent.

“Charming frocks” were also spotted among the London theatre set, with skirts falling in deep, graceful points, while hats included a new wide-brimmed shape.

Causing anger in this week’s issue was Royal Mail, which announced price increases. Drapers complained that this was due to “the combined effect of inefficiency, extravagance, lack of enterprise, and gross mismanagement.”

The Royal Mail’s monopoly on postal services was part of the problem. “If the business it conducts was open to competition we think the public would soon be provided with cheaper and better facilities. Only a monopolist can wipe out deficiencies by the simple process of raising prices.”  

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