Whether you’re a senior director or a rising star, there will have been someone along the way who you will never forget as a mentor. Three of fashion’s biggest names reveal theirs.
Executive director of general merchandise at Marks & Spencer, Bostock looks to former Asda chief executive Andy Bond as her mentor.
“I’m very lucky to have been mentored and inspired by a number of people in my career. David Jones [former chief executive of Next] gave me my first directorship at Next and was an invaluable guiding hand through my early career. Sir Stuart Rose [former Marks & Spencer chief executive]… what Stuart doesn’t know about the high street isn’t worth knowing. However, it was Andy Bond who gave me the confidence to succeed and instilled in me a belief that is still with me today.
“Andy and I worked together at Asda for three years from 2001 when he was managing director of George at Asda and I was design director for George, and at the time he believed in me more than I believed in myself. That really helped push me on in my career. He’s brilliant at spotting someone’s strengths and developing them. He certainly did that with me and that helped me develop as a professional.
“Andy told me: ‘If you believe in yourself and work hard, you can realise your dreams.’ He was right and it’s a piece of advice I use time and time again when speaking with young professionals.
“In my early days at George it was Andy’s vision and backing that led me to put on a fashion show – Walmart’s first ever – to more than 20,000 Walmart employees at a Dallas sales conference. It was a huge success and it kick-started George’s global push.
“Working with Andy taught me retailing on a global scale. We took George from a few hundred UK stores to more than 4,000 internationally. It was a very exciting time to be there and it was Andy’s inspiration that drove us forward to achieve such big numbers.
“As a strategist and visionary, Andy was second to none. When something looked impossible, he challenged it and we found a way to succeed and make it work.
“He taught me how important being a mentor is in business. Because of the inspiration Andy and others have given me, I now lecture at fashion universities and colleges, mentor executives here at M&S and advise and coach external contacts. I work closely with Claire Watt-Smith, founder of boutique fashion house BoBelle London. She doesn’t need my advice when it comes to fashion, but back-end operational work like logistics and banking don’t always come naturally to people in our industry.
“I support women who are looking to make it to the top. If you have the belief and are prepared to work hard, women can make it to and succeed in the boardroom.”
Chairman of young fashion chain Republic and cycling and sports etailer Wiggle, and former Asda chief executive
Bond joined Asda as marketing manager in 1994 and quickly climbed up the ranks to become marketing director, then managing director of George at Asda and finally chief executive in 2005.
The once firm favourite to become M&S chief executive surprised the City in April 2010 when he stood down to become part-time chairman of the supermarket. A few months later he combined his love of cycling with his passion for business when he became chair of Wiggle.co.uk in August 2010. Bond has continued to invest his time and money into retail by becoming chairman of Republic.
Designer Kane studied at Central Saint Martins (CSM) before launching his eponymous fashion label and taking the trophy for New Designer of the Year at the British Fashion Awards in 2007. He says CSM’s influential fashion MA course director, Louise Wilson, is his mentor.
“When I first created one of those lace dresses [for his MA Graduate collection] I was in my flat in Dalston thinking ‘Oh my God, not everyone is going to like this and people are going to think it is cheap and nasty’. Everyone on the course always thinks they are a conceptual artist and I’m so anti that. I took it into college and Louise loved it.
She taught me to just believe in myself and be confident in what you do.
“Louise said that there’s always better people who are going to get that job and bigger and better designers out there so you need to work your guts out.
“It’s such a competitive industry and you need your hands on deck all the time and that’s what she was brutally honest about. She taught me to work 10 times harder so I can always be the best I can be.
“She also told me to be real and grounded. That’s one thing about fashion: there’s so many characters with airs and graces but Louise is honest and real. Hopefully – actually I will – always be like that.
“I see Louise a lot. She helped with my [spring 12] preview. I can trust Louise as she always gives her honest opinion. Actually, Louise is blatantly honest, she knows a lot about the industry. There have been moments when I’ve needed advice and she’s always given me sound advice.
“People think Louise is always really serious but she’s really funny as well. We’ve got common taste in good and bad TV; we watch anything and everything.
“Absolutely everyone has her on a huge pedestal but she hates it.
“She sees teaching as her role. She’s a genius. I think she’s one of a kind.
You know what? I don’t think there’s a word to describe Louise Wilson.”
Professor Louise Wilson
MA Fashion course director, Central Saint Martins College
Scanning the list of British catwalk designers there’s an overwhelming number that have been taught under Wilson, perhaps the world’s most well-known fashion course leader. She may have a fearsome reputation but Wilson has helped build a remarkable set of alumni since running the course.
Former students that have earned their designer stripes under Wilson include Alexander McQueen, Giles Deacon, Jonathan Saunders as well as Christopher Kane.
Wilson learned her own fashion craft as a student on the MA fashion course, graduating with a distinction from the much-revered Central Saint Martins (CSM). What followed was a career in fashion design, including designing for denim brands such as Guess Jeans before becoming associate lecturer on the CSM MA fashion course, then director. In 1997, she joined Donna Karan as design director, taking a one-year sabbatical from CSM, and continued in the role as a consultant until 2001. In 1999, she was awarded a professorship at the University of the Arts London and almost a decade later, in 2008, she was appointed an OBE for her services to the fashion industry and education.
Hobbs’ retail director says she is still influenced today by the leadership of her former Arcadia colleague, Mike Goring, who this month became retail director of Debenhams.
“As retail director at Hobbs, there are many times when I think of Mike’s style of leadership, which gives people the opportunity to shine, without stifling the creativity. He was always encouraging the team at Arcadia to stretch and grow and was coaching along the way.
“I first met Mike when he was retail director at Topshop and I was with the Burton Group as an area manager for Principles in 1986. Straight away he was very charismatic and had a great presence.
“But it was when I began working in retail operations that Mike really inspired me. He was always the utmost professional, very focused and extremely personable. He’s extremely positive about what can be achieved, and always encouraged me to think on a bigger scale.
“I remember when I first had to represent the brand at trade meetings, which Mike chaired on Monday mornings, with all the brand’s retail directors in attendance. It was quite terrifying as Mike would select at random each brand for you to go through the previous week’s trading. However, he always made me feel at ease and added a bit of humour to it, but at the same time it was challenging.
“Mike’s a great, natural retailer and always put things in the simplest format. He used diagrams a lot to explain and show theory. Many of the diagrams were on leadership such as getting the best out of people.
“When I was an Arcadia Area Manager of the Year contender, and six months pregnant, I had to do a presentation to the board, which included Mike. He was questioning but motivational in response and he applauded the creativity of the presentation.
“Many of my friends are now successful in their careers, most of them are in retail and Mike has probably influenced all of them in their career at some point.”
Retail director of Debenhams, and former BHS managing director
Described by one former colleague as the “steady hand at Arcadia” and as “very calm, keeps a cool head, and is well liked within the business”, Goring has gone from strength to strength in his long career operating some of the UK’s biggest clothing businesses. He has held a variety of senior roles within Arcadia and the former Burton Group, ranging from group retail director at Arcadia to managing director of BHS in 2009. He jumped ship this January to take up the retail director role at Debenhams.
Aside from a great track record in retail, Goring is so well regarded in the business as a mentor that in September he scored an industry-wide award recognising him for nurturing women in retail. Goring was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Specsavers Everywoman in Retail Awards after many senior retail executives commended him.
“I’m a little embarrassed about the whole thing [the awards],” he says. “I’ve come across good people who just needed that help and support and they just took advantage of that; Alana was one of them.
“When I first met her she was a person with so much passion and energy. She was like a cable with no plug on the end. My role was to give her work and structure to channel that energy.
“I told her how she should set her own goals and standards, not to waste energy turning right and left and that as a consequence that would mean her vision would stay intact, and she got that. Her integrity level is of the highest standard. Looking at her now I can see she has great empathy with people and she can really engage with them.”