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Last Updated: Friday, 6 October 2006, 12:27 GMT 13:27 UK
Topshop ructions as fashion boss quits
By Simon Atkinson
Business reporter, BBC News

Kate Moss
Kate Moss will "set the inspiration" for her fashion line

When the hiring of the UK's most famous supermodel coincided with the departure of a top executive at the same firm - and a blonde, female one at that - the tabloid headlines were inevitable.

"Topshop boss is off over Moss", squawked The Sun.

"Exit the Topshop queen who won't work with Moss", claimed the Daily Mail.

So just why has Jane Shepherdson - described by magazine Drapers as "the most important woman in British fashion" - chosen to leave Topshop, the business she helped turn around after 18 years?

The conspiracy theory is simple: Ms Shepherdson, who ran Topshop on a day-to-day basis, was upset that she had not been suitably consulted on the decision to employ the controversial supermodel Kate Moss.

However, the billionaire at the top of the Topshop tree, Sir Philip Green, is insisting that the departure of his brand director had nothing to do with the decision to hire Ms Moss as a designer at the High Street chain.

'Collaborative decision'

To try and douse speculation, Sir Philip issued a statement saying that Ms Shepherdson had simply decided it was "time for a change".

She knows what the trends are, she likes shopping
Sir Philip Green on Kate Moss

Hiring Moss had been a "collaborative decision" and had "absolutely nothing" to do with the brand manager's decision to leave the business, Sir Philip added.

Of course the denials have done little to stop the rumours.

While two executives have been appointed from within the company to replace Ms Shepherdson, losing such an influential figure has been seen by many analysts as a large blow for Sir Philip's Arcadia Empire.

In recent years she has helped make Topshop a byword for fashion among both celebrities and fashion-conscious teenage girls - exactly the kind of person he needs around the group.

Just last month, Sir Philip's Bhs business announced a 60% fall in annual profits, a setback he blamed on mistakes in its womenswear collection.

A bid to buy Marks & Spencer - which has itself turned a corner and is starting to regain its dominant position on the High Street - also failed.

So whatever the motive for Ms Shepherdson's departure, there are likely to be some people within Topshop who are worried that her instinct for fashion will be missed, even if others are betting her legacy will endure.

"Jane did a terrific job at creating the Topshop we know today," said editor of the British edition of Vogue, Alexandra Shulman.

"She's left it in great shape for the team and whoever new comes in to take it on to another phase."

'Set the inspiration'

As a buyer with the firm, Ms Shepherdson took a bet on a job lot of tank tops - raising eyebrows among some executives at the firm but proving her credentials and eye for a trend as the chain sold 50,000 in a week.

She went on to set the direction for the 300-store brand that raked in a reported 102m profit last year, taking on competition from its High Street rivals such as H&M.

How much of Topshop's surging profits will go on the 32-year-old supermodel's contract has not been revealed, and while Ms Moss will feature in occasional advertising campaigns, design will be her main role according to Sir Philip.

"She will come in for a few hours every other day or so, set the inspiration for the line, and then our designers will interpret that," he said.

"She knows what the trends are, she likes shopping and she will provide the ethos as to where we should position the line."


VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
See inside fashion store Topshop



SEE ALSO
Topshop rift 'not linked to Moss'
05 Oct 06 |  Business
Green admits Bhs 'disappointment'
28 Sep 06 |  Business

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