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Ashley cruises into premium territory

Jessica Brown

It’s now not beyond the realms of possibility that come October we could see the somewhat sartorially challenged Mike Ashley elbowing his way past Anna Wintour into the front row of the Prada catwalk in Milan.

I jest of course, but Ashley’s swoop on the premium and designer sector in the form of his acquisition of USC and Cruise this week is no laughing matter.

That Ashley is said to be plotting further acquisitions in this space is certain to make suppliers from LVMH down to the denim giants pretty nervy about his long-term plans given his history of brand pillaging at Sports Direct. Indies too are likely to be twitching at the prospect of competing with an even bigger player than previous USC and Cruise owner Sir Tom Hunter. It’s no wonder this chatter dominated the opening of Bread & Butter this week.

But what Ashley lacks in experience in this sector he makes up for in business intellect and it is just not viable that he’d attempt to downgrade these chains. He has after all sat on many a football terrace among the core Cruise customer and any fashion retailer worth their salt would recognise the opportunity to sell full-price high margin Stone Island jackets and Polo Ralph Lauren tees in a well-serviced environment to a certain crowd.

It’s worth remembering too that until now JD Sports Fashion has had a virtual monopoly on opportunities in this space and a monopoly is never good for business (unless you are the owner of it).

This is my last column for Drapers before I head off to join you at the sharp end of things as head of fashion at Amazon. Over the past 11 years I’ve witnessed radical changes to this incredible industry and will continue to feel fortunate to be a part of it.

It has been an absolute pleasure and a privilege.

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