Anger over 'Presidents Club' clothing range

By Robert Plummer
Business reporter, BBC News

  • Published
Presidents Club dressImage source, Presidents Club

It's been two years since the Presidents Club charity closed down amid anger over its men-only dinners at which waitresses were allegedly groped.

But now a range of branded clothing has revived memories of the scandal - and stockists include Mike Ashley's House of Fraser chain.

Among the clothes are figure-hugging black dresses emblazoned with a logo bearing the name The Presidents Club.

Female entrepreneurs described the range as "disgraceful" and "insulting".

In January 2018, the Presidents Club hit the headlines after it emerged that waitresses at its annual fund-raising event were told to wear revealing clothing and put up with sexual harassment from guests.

Although the charity no longer exists, the brand has been registered as a trademark by Manchester-based businessman Martyn Warden, as first reported by the Mail on Sunday.

Its website says that the company believes "fashion is more than a choice, it's an experience".

'Surprised and disappointed'

House of Fraser also offers the range for both men and women from its own website.

Women entrepreneurs contacted by the BBC reacted angrily to the range of clothing and to Mr Ashley's involvement.

"As a business owner and mother of two daughters, I am surprised and disappointed that in this day and age, someone like Mike Ashley should seek to exploit misogynistic practices for commercial gain," said Sonal Keay, founder of fashion firm This Is Silk.

"In an era where businesses are supposed to contribute positively towards all stakeholders, which includes wider society, it is an insulting move and I hope that his actions are condemned and ignored."

Kathryn Colas, founder and chief executive of women's advice and support service Simply Hormones, said: "The clothing is disgraceful, insulting the image of professional working women today."

Generating publicity

Giovanna Forte, chief executive of medical equipment firm Forte Medical, said: "The concept is clearly an opportunistic attempt at exploiting a scandal.

"Whilst I cannot see anything too controversial about the designs - I've seen far more revealing in High Street retailers - it's up to women to vote with their wallets as to whether or not they wish to support the brand and its implications.

"The greater fuss that's made, the greater publicity will be generated and the more successful the exploitation.

"Much like the trousers on Presidents Club members, publicity around the clothing range just needs to be zipped up."

By contrast, Lu Li, founder of female entrepreneurs' support service Blooming Founders, objected to both the brand and the clothing.

"You can only wear this type of dress if you go bra-less," she told the BBC. "There are very few people who can wear that type of dress naturally."

She added: "It's reinforcing the message to young women that you're not pretty enough, you're not thin enough.

"It's taking a brand with a bad reputation and actually doubling down on what made it bad in the first place."

Frasers Group, which owns House of Fraser, and the Presidents Club have both been approached for comment by the BBC.