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Baugur, Shepherdson Join Forces at Whistles

Jane Shepherdson, formerly brand director at Topshop, has been named chief executive of the Baugur-owned Whistles chain. It is the first major post...

LONDON — Jane Shepherdson, formerly brand director at Topshop, has been named chief executive of the Baugur-owned Whistles chain. It is the first major post Shepherdson has taken on since quitting Topshop in fall 2006.

This story first appeared in the January 29, 2008 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

In addition to her role as ceo, Shepherdson and her management team will become part owner of Whistles, together with Baugur, the second-largest investor in Saks Fifth Avenue, and Iceland’s Glitnir Bank.

Baugur already owned Whistles via its holding company, Mosaic Fashions. Through a management buy-in deal with Shepherdson and her team, Baugur has spun off Whistles into a separate company. However, it remains the lead shareholder.

The financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

In an interview Monday, Shepherdson said she wants to make Whistles “the most exciting place” on the British high street in terms of collections, service, merchandising and design. Asked if she’d take the brand to the U.S., she said: “Absolutely. There is no reason why Whistles should not be there.”

Whistles, which has an older target audience than Topshop, is known for its colorful, on-trend but safe collections for work and weekend. The store also carries brands such as Antik Batik, Pink Soda and Paige Denim.

Shepherdson, who was in talks with Baugur since she left Topshop, said she plans to broaden the range and appeal to women older than 25 who are not scared of fashion, but who don’t slavishly follow trends. “I feel very strongly about this brand, and I feel I can add something to it,” she said. “It’s totally different to Topshop.”

She added that she is definitely not looking to make Whistles young in the style of Topshop, and hopes to appeal to “women’s needs for quality and endurance” in fashion. Shepherdson said changes at the store probably would not be visible for another six to nine months.

Whistles was founded in 1976 by the husband-and-wife team of Richard and Lucille Lewin as a multibrand store. At the start, it sold lines from young designers including Jean Paul Gaultier, Dries Van Noten and John Galliano, as well as an in-house collection that at one time was wholesaled to major American department stores. The retailer was acquired by Mosaic Fashions in 2004, and currently has 40 stores across the U.K. and 40 department store concessions. It also sells online.

Shepherdson said she likes the idea of selling bought-in brands at the store, and would be looking to bring in other names. She also plans to draw on the brand’s heritage, stocking collections from young designers with whom she’s developed relationships over the years.

Baugur’s ceo, Gunnar Sigurdsson, said Whistles has great potential. “With the talent and experience that Jane and her team bring, we have no doubt that they will take advantage of the solid foundation and drive Whistles to new heights,” he said in a statement.

Shepherdson is widely credited with transforming Topshop into a fashion and retailing icon. In addition to embracing catwalk and street trends, she made a habit of hiring designers including Celia Birtwell, Zandra Rhodes and Sophia Kokosalaki to design special collections for Topshop.

Since leaving Topshop, Shepherdson has consulted for a variety of not-for-profit organizations such as the poverty relief agency Oxfam, and People Tree, the fair trade clothing brand. In 2006, she was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire for her services to the fashion industry.

Shepherdson has drafted in former Topshop colleagues Keith Wilks as finance director and Jo Farrelly as marketing director. Farrelly was marketing director of Topshop from 2000 to 2007. Previously, she served in marketing roles at Levi Strauss Europe. Wilks was formerly Topshop’s finance director.

Baugur’s Mosaic Fashions remains the parent of such high street brands as Karen Millen, Oasis, Principles and Warehouse. It operates 1,809 stores and concessions, mainly in the U.K. and Ireland.