OUR HIGH STREET HERO

Llanelli Star - - FASHION FOCUS -

EVEN those who don’t fol­low the busi­ness pages will know that the high street is in dan­ger of be­com­ing a thing of the past. Con­sumers are turn­ing their backs on tra­di­tional “bricks & mor­tar” stores in favour of on­line re­tail­ers, tak­ing ad­van­tage of 24-hour shop­ping, con­ve­nient de­liv­ery op­tions and the chance to com­pare prices in sec­onds.

But there is one man, a man with very deep pock­ets, who keeps throw­ing ail­ing shops and brands a life­line, seem­ingly with the in­tent of sav­ing what’s left of an in­sti­tu­tion upon which he built his fortune.

I’m talk­ing about Mike Ash­ley, the in­trigu­ing billionair­e Sports Di­rect founder whose re­tail port­fo­lio now in­cludes, among oth­ers, French Con­nec­tion, USC, lux­ury bou­tiques Flan­nels, lin­gerie brand Agent Provo­ca­teur as well as New­cas­tle United Foot­ball Club.

His most re­cent ac­qui­si­tions in­clude her­itage depart­ment store House of Fraser and as I write, there is talk he will buy out the ail­ing Deben­hams chain (he al­ready owns a 28% share in the busi­ness).

It goes with­out say­ing that he is the most pow­er­ful re­tailer in

Mike Ash­ley

Q

I WOULD like to buy my mum a pretty scarf for Mother’s Day, some­thing light weight she can wear in spring as an ac­ces­sory. What do you sug­gest?

A

SCARF is a lovely gift and they are the per­fect ac­ces­sory! I love this one from Oliver Bonas, in a spring colour this coun­try, with enough stores open to in­flu­ence land­lords to of­fer at­trac­tive rents, (crippling rents is said to be one of the ma­jor reasons many busi­nesses can’t sus­tain their place on the high street).

I like to think he be­lieves there is a high street model that can work, that depart­ment stores in all their brightly lit per­fumed counter glory aren’t nec­es­sar­ily an ar­chaic no­tion.

As a busi­ness­man Mike Ash­ley isn’t anti e-com­merce, his turnover in­cludes hun­dreds of millions in on­line sales, so what is it he does dif­fer­ently?

I shop on the in­ter­net for the same reasons we all do, shop­ping from my phone at anti-so­cial hours, no park­ing fees, no queues and the world’s best shops at my fin­ger tips.

But I still love shop­ping in stores, from be­ing able to touch the merchandis­e be­fore I buy it, to the thrill of walk­ing away from the till swing­ing my pur­chase in its bag. I’m keep­ing my fin­gers crossed this re­tail ti­tan has some tricks up his sleeve so shops, as we know them, don’t be­come the stuff

of folk­lore. but with a modern print. ■ Gra­di­ent Leop­ard Print Scarf, £24 (oliv­er­bonas.com).

■ Joanne is a stylist and per­sonal shop­per with more than 16 years’ ex­pe­ri­ence in the fash­ion in­dus­try. Email: Joan­necwatkin­[email protected]

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