Exclusive: Politicians slam House of Fraser for continuing to sell Presidents Club clothing line
Politicians, businesswomen and equality campaigners have called on House of Fraser to stop selling a clothing line appearing to reference the Presidents Club dinner where businessmen allegedly groped hostesses.
The Presidents Club annual dinner was plunged into scandal in 2018 after details emerged of attendees’ behaviour and revealing dresses hostesses were told to wear. The charity closed shortly afterwards.
Earlier this week, it came to light that a clothing range emblazoned with a Presidents Club logo, including tight-fitting dresses and men’s leisurewear, was on sale at multiple retailers.
Stockists include House of Fraser and USC, both owned by high street tycoon Mike Ashley, and Footasylum, which is owned by JD Sports’ parent company. According to web caches, the range also appears to have been stocked by Sports Direct, another retailer Ashley owns, as recently as a few days ago.
“It is beyond belief that anybody would want to use the name of a dinner that degraded and objectified women to sell a clothing label. I call on House of Fraser and all the other stores stocking this range to think again and take this brand off the shelves,” Rachel Reeves MP, chair of the business select committee, told City A.M.
“This sends out a message to young people that the objectification of women and treating them as objects is acceptable, when it absolutely is not,” she added.
Sam Smethers, chief executive of the Fawcett Society, said the brand was “openly trading off the back of one of the most appalling examples in recent years of the sexual exploitation of women”.
She added: “House of Fraser should discontinue selling these products now. What message does this send to their female customers?”
The Presidents Club brand name was trademarked by Manchester-based fashion trader Martyn Warden just one month after the charity dinner hit the headlines in January 2018.
The fashion brand’s logo, which includes gold script that bears a striking resemblance to that of the scandalised charity, also features the year 2018 in Roman numerals throughout its collection.
Speaking to City A.M., Warden said “I’m sorry if it came across like that. My clothing line has no association with the Presidents Club charity at all. A lot of people use gold script on their clothes. It’s just fashion.”
“I didn’t realise those Roman numerals were a date, to be honest,” he added. “I didn’t realise what they meant.”
The fashion brand’s website boasts that “the President’s Club is all about the lifestyle that comes with wearing it.”
“Work hard and play hard; Presidents Club is all about feeling exclusive… and privileged.”
At its official launch last year, attended by celebrities including former Love Island stars, guests were given gold wristbands featuring the Presidents Club logo.
Female dancers in knee-high black boots performed on stage wearing underwear featuring the Presidents Club emblem. The dancers were provided by an entertainment company that also offers the services of hostesses.
Vicki Maguire, chief creative officer at Havas London, told City A.M.: “It’s a bit rich for Martyn Warden, who runs the clothing brand, to claim it’s nothing to do with the sleazy Presidents Club dinners, and for House of Fraser to feign ignorance as to this range’s inspiration.”
“The hostesses at the President Club events were made to wear skimpy black outfits and those tawdry events enabled and normalised sexual harassment. This clothing range is clearly riding off the back of that. It might as well have a tagline ‘grab them by the p***y’ underneath the logo,” she added.
“In our current enlightened MeToo and Time’s Up climate, this is cynical beyond belief. It’s such a bad call… If House of Fraser don’t know what they’ve got on their rails, they should. Simple as.”
A spokesperson for the Government Equalities Office told City A.M.: “The Presidents Club dinner represented some of the worst elements of an out-dated culture that has no place in the modern world. Sexual harassment is wrong and working together with business we intend to stamp it out.”
Shadow women and equalities minister Dawn Butler MP has previously criticised the range for “trying to trade off the controversy caused by appalling misogynistic behaviour,” adding: “No one should be selling these products.”
Warden told City A.M. he currently has no plans to cease production of the clothing line or change its name.
Ashley declined to comment.