At last week’s Australian Fashion Week, Donna Player was a constant presence on the front row, supporting her David Jones designers and hunting for new talent with their buying team.
On Monday, she happily answered questions for a story about the event for The Australian.
On Tuesday night, she was gone.
As was David Robinson, David Jones group executive marketing, financial services and customer insights.
Their departure was followed up last night by news that Victoria Doidge, general manager marketing and communications, was also exiting the business.
Ms Player, the former group executive merchandise for the retailer, is reported to be “shocked and upset” by the move from the store’s owners since 2014, South Africa’s Woolworths Holdings, and its new chief executive John Dixon.
It is also a clearing out by Woolworths, Ms Player being the last of former chief executive Paul Zahra’s management team to leave the business, giving Mr Dixon a clean slate to work with under his management.
Ms Player was well-respected within the fashion industry, and was considered by her peers to be a star performer. She was also a confessed retail geek with 30 years’ experience, including roles at BigW, Katies and Grace Bros.
Overseeing a team of about 40 buyers across categories as diverse as fashion and homewares, she was involved in the push upmarket for the department store, helping to lure high-end designers including Aurelio Costarella and Tome from rival retailer Myer as its focus moved to the mid-market.
However, with the influx of Woolworths-owned, low-priced house brands, including Re: denim and Studio W, this message may be getting a little muddied.
Designers within the store’s stable have refused to comment on the situation, but the broader consensus is that it will be difficult for anyone outside the Australian fashion industry to fully appreciate its machinations.
One industry insider told The Australian: “It’s a shame to see her go. I think that what Donna did do was bring a sense of calm and continuity to a strategy that was well progressed (when she joined in 2012) and I think she shared similar values to the company — that relationships are important, people … and nurturing talent is important.”
Ms Player will be replaced by longtime Woolworths South Africa executive, David Collins.
How at home he appears on the front row at next year’s fashion week remains to be seen.