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This week in history...

Marks & Spencer unveiled its Limited Collection sub-brand, Liverpool council launched a safety blitz on stores, and retailers were given tips on the art of business letter writing.

5 years ago…

Marks & Spencer unveiled its new Limited Collection womenswear sub-brand in the July 3 2004 issue of Drapers.

The range, aimed at “confident” women aged 30-plus, was due to launch in 66 shops on September 1, the biggest launch of a sub-brand in M&S’s history, with prices 8% to 10% above the M&S mainline. Ads and in-store posters were to feature model Helena Christensen. 

The retailer’s creative director Yasmin Yusuf told Drapers: “I have been thinking for some time that the UK lacks the sort of smart casualwear American women have with Theory or DKNY. That’s what Limited Collection is about.”

A major remodelling of the chain’s merchandising and store layout was also announced, which Yusuf hoped would counter criticism of poor classification of production in M&S stores.

30 years ago…

The metrication of fabric measurements was the big story in Drapers on July 7 1979, with top retailers and trade association representatives due to meet to discuss the issue.

Fabrics, along with floor coverings, should have gone metric on February 3 of this year, but the voluntary nature of the change-over meant that few companies paid attention to the date.

The Metrication Board called on retailers to reach an agreement, but Drapers reported that the Association of Retail Distributors and the Retail Consortium were strongly opposed to the move.

“Retailers are not fond of metrication,” said Richard Weir, director of the Retail Consortium. “Unless it can be demonstrated that consumers want metrication or the government introduces a compulsory programme, we would not go along with a voluntary date of implementation.” 

Also this week, a fashion shoot spotlighted formal womenswear “to go with geometric jewellery”, while in Menswear magazine (later incorporated into Drapers) a shoot entitled “South Bank Show” looked at the latest men’s tailoring.

49 years ago…

Liverpool council vowed to kick off a safety “blitz” on the city’s stores following the previous week’s fire at department store William Henderson, in which 11 people died, according to Drapers on July 2 1960.

The council complained that it had been pressing retailers to install more fire escapes and other fire safety provisions, which in some cases would involve large-scale structural alterations, but it had met with a slow response. Following the tragedy at William Henderson, the council vowed to take a harder line.

In response to the fire, stores including Marks & Spencer and Lewis’s staged fire drills, while Blackler’s Stores and Bon Marché put up posters asking customers to refrain from smoking.

Among the 11 people who died in the fire were store manager William Terry and staff manager Barbara Coomber. The store’s owner, Hugh Fraser, said the store would reopen.

Also, this week, a fashion spread suggested some “imaginative” schoolwear, in response to criticism in the consumer press that school clothing lacked variety. Drapers pointed out that the advance of synthetic fibres had livened up tunics and skirts.

88 years ago…

The art of business letter writing was explained to readers in the July 2 1921 edition of Drapers. “An individual is summed up and judged to a very large extent by his appearance; a firm by its letters,” the magazine wrote.

First, the choice of paper. “Whilst a fine quality white is always good, distinction is to be found amongst the paler of the plain tints. A ‘wove’ texture is more suitable for typing than a ‘laid’, and a slightly glazed better than a rough surface.”

The letter heading was also important. “They may be likened to men’s suits,” wrote Drapers. “Some are obviously ‘ready-mades’, some proclaim their presence at a distance, whilst others combine fine materials with the best work of the craftsman.”

As for composition, “each must be drafted to its own particular circumstances”. Nevertheless, a few general principles were offered. “The first and greatest need is clarity of expression. The fewer words and the simpler the language the better. Ambiguity is one of the deadly sins in business. No businessman in conversation would reply, ‘The answer is in the negative’ when he meant ‘no’.

The second maxim, particularly when replying to a letter, was to stick to the point. “Nothing is more annoying than to receive an incomplete or evasive reply.”

Finally, a few “important don’ts” were provided, including “don’t use a foreign word, or slang expression, when you can use the King’s English”, and “don’t forget that while your letter may be opened by a junior, it may also be read by the managing director”.

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