Anthony Hilton: Christmas at M&S - a very fishy affair

These days most people associate George Davies with the Per Una fashion range in Marks & Spencer and realise that he was also the George who created ‘George at Asda’.

They have forgotten, or never knew, how he first came to prominence 20 years ago with a small-time chain of men's tailors called Hepworth, later relaunched as Next.

It was a brilliant success and took the retail trade by storm until an acrimonious split with the board. But before the unhappy ending, the youthful Davies had shown himself to be the consummate sales and PR man – he always understood how to get his name in the papers.

This makes me deeply sceptical that he and M&S CEO Stuart Rose ever had the falling out and subsequent reconciliation that has dominated press coverage in recent weeks. They may well have had a robust negotiation about money. But the idea Davies would 'resign' on the day that Rose had lined up press and analysts for a trading update, and then be  'reconciled' just a few weeks later when, conveniently, all the press were once again assembled, is just too smooth to be true.
But think of the effect on the image: just fancy boring old M&S employing such passionate, volatile people. The publicity value was enormous. Per Una was plastered over every paper and millions were reminded the line had been created by one of the greatest names in fashion. All those people who had never bought a Per Una garment were clearly missing something special, and had better get down there quick, while stocks last.

How odd, too, that this spat should have flared up on the threshold of a Christmas season that everyone knows will be tough, but which is nevertheless crucial for Rose if he is to convince people that M&S is on the mend.

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