M&S shops at Asda for new head of womenswear

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The Independent Online

Marks & Spencer scored an unexpected fashion victory yesterday when it poached one of the country's best retailers from Asda to run its troubled womenswear business.

Marks & Spencer scored an unexpected fashion victory yesterday when it poached one of the country's best retailers from Asda to run its troubled womenswear business.

Kate Bostock, the design brains behind the runaway success of Asda's George clothing arm, is to replace Steve Longdon, ousted as director of womenswear after months of disappointing sales.

Shares in M&S, which have tumbled in recent weeks, rose 4.25p to 275.25p. The company, which is searching for a new chairman to succeed Luc Vandevelde, is desperate to revive sales of its core womenswear, particularly given the lukewarm reception for its autumn collection. It has lost market share over the past two quarters.

Ms Bostock, 47, last year refused the job of running M&S's childrenswear division. Yesterday she said: "I've always admired what Marks & Spencer stands for, particularly its focus on quality. I will have the opportunity to help build one of the most compelling womenswear offers on the high street."

Although Mr Longdon will leave the company at the end of this month, it is unclear how long M&S will have to wait for Ms Bostock. She is on a six-month contract at Asda. The supermarket chain, a pioneer of value clothing, yesterday declined to comment on whether it would let her go early.

Ms Bostock, who last year was named the fashion industry's second most influential person by the sector's bible Draper's Record, headed Next's childrenswear arm before being lured to Asda.

Several retail heavyweights had turned down the job as director of clothing at M&S, including the former head of Debenhams, Belinda Earl, and Pringle's Kim Winser, so the company added clothing to Vittorio Radice's home and new store design responsibilities.

Analyst Rhys Williams, at Seymour Pierce, said: "Kate seems to have the skills M&S lacks, in design, in buying and in merchandise. She will be able to use the knowledge she brings from Asda to put pressure on M&S suppliers to cut their prices. And that will be good news for profits."

Mr Radice hailed Ms Bostock's "outstanding retail flair". During her three years at Asda she pioneered "fast fashion", reinventing catwalk trends as wearable, affordable clothing ranges refreshed every four weeks. She helped to launch George as a standalone store.

Mr Radice also promoted Jack Paterson, who ran M&S's successful lingerie department, to the new position of director of home; Matt Hudson, her former colleague, is the director of lingerie and beauty, and Andrew Skinner, who oversaw the launch of M&S's first menswear sub-brand, Blue Harbour, was made director of menswear. M&S declined to say how much Ms Bostock would be paid.

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