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This week in history...

Stylo planned a product overhaul at footwear chain Saxone, Paris couture workers went on strike, and the Shop Assistants’ Union protested against working conditions.

13 years ago…

Stylo, the new owner of footwear chains Saxone and Hush Puppies, was planning a major overhaul of product at the two businesses, reported Drapers on August 10, 1996.

The two chains were bought out of administration by Stylo, whose chief executive Michael Ziff described the businesses as “fantastic” brands with potential for growth.

Revamped product would go into Saxone stores for spring 07, said Ziff. “Our intention is to trade Saxone and rebuild it,” he added.

Saxone had been in administration since the collapse earlier in the year of Facia, which Stylo bought from Sears’ British Shoe division in 1995. Saxone’s 180 stores took Stylo’s portfolio to more than 380. Stylo paid £5.9m for the Saxone stores.

The Hush Puppies retail operation cost Stylo £19.2m to buy from Sears. The wholesale business was being taken over by Hush Puppies Ltd, a new subsidiary of Wolverine World Wide, owner of the brand name.

Also in this week, high street chain New Look abandoned plans to develop a network of standalone stores for its teen label 915, after trialling the format in stores in Weymouth in Dorset, Trowbridge in Wiltshire and Newton Abbot in Devon.

The retailer said it would focus instead on developing the range within its existing 270 mainline stores.

A feature in this issue also highlighted spring 07 womenswear trends. Dresses and prints were the big stories, as fresh directions paid homage to the souks and kasbahs of North Africa and used clashing brights and bold geometric prints.

40 years ago…

“Children’s wear grows up” was the headline of a report in the August 6, 1969 issue of Drapers, focusing on the trend revolution within the sector over recent years.

“In the past children’s and adult clothing were two different entities,” wrote Drapers. But in 1969, all that had changed. “From being a few seasons behind in copying mum and dad, they are now running neck and neck and clamouring to be up-to-the-minute in current trends.”

According to retailers, even kids as young as four were making the final decision on the sale of a garment: “If they don’t like it, they won’t have it, and that’s that!”

Therefore designers, quick to assess the situation, were now designing as much for the child as the parent, “producing superb and imaginative styles,” wrote Drapers.

However, the magazine did warn against the breadth of styles on offer: “Buyers are often bemused at the selection. Can you imagine, therefore, the quandary the public is placed in?”

The issue also reported on the new “long-look” for women’s swimwear, illustrated by an early-delivery cruise style by Silhouette, while indie SJ Mandel of Gloucester was also in the news after opening its new kidswear and maternitywear store with “double-decked frontage.”  

60 years ago…

Fashion retailers in Drapers’ August 6, 1949 issue were reeling after the decision by president of the Board of Trade Harold Wilson to cut gross margin on utility clothing, household textiles and footwear by an average of 5%.

Drapers said it was “the severest blow the trade has received for many years”, and had left retailers “bitter and confused”.

The price controls, which would force retailers to knock 5% off statutory maximum prices, were intended to help stabilise the personal incomes of UK consumers. They were due to come into force in early September and would apply to all existing stocks.

Retail trade bodies complained they had not been consulted about the move. Mr J Ramage, director of the Drapers’Chamber of Trade, said many retailers would be forced to operate at a loss in certain parts of their business, while Hugh Fraser, president of the Scottish Retail Drapers’ Association, said: “It was a bombshell. A 5%cut is impossible.” 

Meanwhile, in Paris, the opening of Couture Week was delayed by 48 hours due to a strike by couture workers (or ‘midinettes’) employed by the fashion houses.

Low pay was the reason for the strike, as couture workers earned about 15,000 francs (about £15) a month while working on clothing that would sell at about six-times that amount.  The workers were demanding a 2.5% pay rise. Jean Lanvin, president of the Syndicale de la Couture, appealed to buyers to accept late deliveries.

Perhaps adding to the workers’ ire, entrance fees to the shows were raised, with Jacques Fath and Christian Dior now charging 100,000 francs (£100). 

The magazine also ran a picture report of an “innovation in headsquares”, a women’s scarf made by Blond Bros of Manchester.

110 years ago…

“The advantages of organisation are now being appreciated by employees as they never were before,” wrote Drapers on August 5, 1899, reporting on a protest in London’s Hyde Park by the Shop Assistants’ Union.

One of the key speakers at the demonstration, which was protesting against working conditions in the drapery trade, was Liberal MP WC Steadman, who said: “If there is a body on God’s earth that is over-sweated and underpaid, it is that of the shop assistants.

“I have two daughters of my own in the drapery trade, and it takes every penny they earn to keep themselves respectable, without giving them an opportunity of contributing a shilling a week to the household expenses.”

The major complaints raised in the protest were long hours, low pay, unpaid overtime, and the “living in” system, whereby staff who live on company property see part of their wage packet deducted to cover “library, doctor, breakages etc”. There was also strong condemnation of a reference process that “places an unjust power in the hands of employers.”

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