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Preview: The Drapers Interview with Peter Ruis

In his first interview since becoming chief executive of Jigsaw, Peter Ruis reveals his plan to revive its quirky personality. Drapers gives you a sneak peek ahead of publication this week.

Everyone’s got a Jigsaw story. Everyone, including the retailer’s newly appointed chief executive, Peter Ruis. “For me, it was that every girl I chased at college worked there or wore the clothes. They were impossibly cool,” he remembers. “It was understated sexiness at a time when fashion wasn’t sexy. It had an attitude. Everyone’s got a Jigsaw story, whatever their age.”

But in the last decade or so of its 40-year history, Jigsaw lost that edge, with brands such as Whistles and Hobbs leading the charge in the premium womenswear market. “I think the business got a little bit tired and lost a point of view, lost its uniqueness,” Ruis admits. “But that’s the challenge. I think starting a brand from scratch is really hard in fashion. If you’ve got that amazing history, then there’s a way of harnessing that power again. You can’t invent that.”

Ruis joined the retailer in September and is determined to bring that attitude back to Jigsaw, and his flawless track record at John Lewis suggests he is more than capable. Since he joined the department store in 2005 as head of menswear, Ruis has been credited with transforming John Lewis from a retailer that sold clothes to one that sells fashion, the bellwether for the UK high street, a feat that earned him the Fashion Retailing Personality of the Year accolade at the Drapers Awards 2013 last week.

“Most people said to me when I joined John Lewis in 2005 ‘you’re mad, it’s a bit tired, it’s lost its way’, but it’s really fun regenerating something. When John [Robinson, the founder of Jigsaw] asked me to come, the more I thought about it, the more I couldn’t think of a reason not to. Plus, I was really scared of cruising along. [John Lewis] was such a lovely job that I could wake up in my 50s and turn into one those bastions of retail that had steered a fair ship in an OK direction,” says 45-year-old Ruis. “Really good brands are very visceral and I couldn’t think of a better brand than Jigsaw in terms of doing something different.”

Unsurprisingly then, focusing on brand perception is a top priority for Ruis. After all, the business itself is in good shape, after a rocky 2011 when parent company Robinson Webster Holdings, which also includes London designer retailer The Shop at Bluebird, posted a pre-tax loss of £21.2m. But for the year to September 29, 2012, the business recorded sales of £60.2m, a rise of 10%, with pre-tax profits of £1.6m, after closing its loss-making Kew fascia.

At John Lewis Oxford Street, Jigsaw is the number one womenswear brand. “We take a lot more than Whistles, more than Hobbs. It makes you realise the product is there,” says Ruis. “The perception of the brand is below where the product is. We have beautiful, high-quality product made in a way that other people can’t make.”

Ruis believes the best way to achieve this is to start with the shops, of which Jigsaw has 61 and 29 concessions in the UK, plus four US stores. “We used to be streets ahead of everyone; we were doing shop design when no one was doing shop design,” he says. “I remember being blown away by the [architect] John Pawson shops and students from [Central] Saint Martins queuing outside when it opened on Bond Street in 1995. I want us to bring back some unique shopfits.”

To read the full interview, see this week’s issue of Drapers, 30 November.

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