- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
Alexa Chung was supposed to usher in a long-overdue revival at Marks & Spencer.
In the run up to London Fashion Week in 2016, the supermodel welcomed celebrity friends David Gandy and Pixie Geldof to a launch party of her debut clothing collection with the 137-year-old brand.
The roll-out of Archive by Alexa came just weeks before executive Steve Rowe vowed to shore up M&S's struggling clothing arm, claiming he was "personally committed" to turnaround efforts.
But on Wednesday, M&S's clothing and home sales sank by 32pc as the division recorded a £129m loss.
Despite numerous attempts to regain its position as a leader on the high street, the pandemic has forced the retailer into retreat.
To ease the searing pressure on the company's bottom line, Rowe and chairman Archie Norman are slamming the shutters down on dozens of stores and accelerating a shift towards food.
Around 30 so-called full-line stores - which sell clothing, home and food ranges - are caught in a death spiral of long-term decline and will be picked off, the company says.
A further 80 sites will either be refashioned as food-only shops or moved to new locations.
It is the latest move by M&S to focus more on food. It has cut full-line store numbers from 301 to 254 over the past three years, according to the Local Data Company.
Investors were enamored by Rowe's ruthless treatment of the store estate on Wednesday, sending shares 8.5pc higher to 169p.
Yet questions linger. With no sign of pressure easing on the high street, bosses are struggling to conjure up a strategy for M&S's once-prized clothing and home businesses beyond managed decline.
Making its more stable food division do more of the heavy lifting is an obvious step, but claiming further market share is not guaranteed in an already crowded marketplace.
Rowe may be better served pursuing a break-up - but despite a management style that has earned him the nickname "nails", such a step may prove off limits for an M&S lifer.
Richard Hyman, an independent retail analyst, says the clothing and home arm's lacklustre performance is partly due to priorities.
"By concentrating on food, they have helped deteriorate the trading performance of clothing and home," he adds.
"M&S has overseen significant disinvestment in the clothing business. And the disinvestment has led to it being more dysfunctional and less attractive.
"If they did have the idea to split the businesses, then presiding over the deterioration of the trading economics of the clothing business does not seem like a smart strategy.
"I think it makes sense to split the businesses out because the clothing business will gradually shrink [...] but I think it would be even more difficult to do that now."
The more immediate question is how Rowe positions the business post-pandemic.
M&S says it has been "severely constrained by the change in day-to-day living, the effects of social distancing and partial or full closure of large parts of our store estate".
Gilding its dismal full-year results, Rowe said M&S had shown "resilience" to the Covid crisis. Now he must grasp what M&S looks like in a world of flexible working.
With fewer workers filing through city centres or commuter hubs on a daily basis, the outlook appears fraught with uncertainty.
Yet Rowe is confident its newer stores can rebound to pre-pandemic levels, even if it means weeding out those that remain on the fringes of financial stability.
M&S is preparing for a scenario where around a fifth of the population returns to work full-time, which it expects to affect footfall in "city-dominated locations, particularly London".
Closures will be focused on "old high street locations" that have struggled amid the online shopping revolution, but not "new city centres" with a strong population of office workers.
Despite the pandemic-induced pain, there is room for optimism.
An influx of workers returning to office - albeit on a more infrequent basis - will provide a fillip to M&S on numerous fronts.
Rowe believes clothing and home sales will enjoy a boost when lockdown measures are lifted on June 21.
He expects a further uplift in September when parents and children return to work and school respectively.
And while office suits are expected to become a casualty of flexible working, M&S expects to capitalise on demand for more informal work attire.
Sales of casual chinos and shirts have "increased substantially" in lockdown, Rowe says, a trend that is expected to continue.
However, the City remains sceptical. While clothing and home posted a better-than-expected 15.5pc fall in the final quarter, the outlook remains a mixed bag.
Jefferies analyst James Grzinic believes food sales will "build up strongly" as offices reopen, but expects the pent-up demand for clothing and home to slow in the coming weeks.
The 137-year-old retailer increased its share of the women's fashion market by 0.8 percentage points to 7pc for the 24 weeks to December, according to Kantar Worldpanel data.
The closure of Debenhams may help M&S sustain that position. But those customers could equally be swept up by fast-fashion retailers, or its high street rival Next.
Rowe has rightly recognised the M&S's food arm provides a route back to financial security.
The proportion of Simply Food stores within M&S's entire estate has climbed from 51pc to 72pc over the past decade, evidence that Rowe's priorities have been shifting for some time.
This trend also extends to online.
M&S's deal with Ocado helped nudge like-for-like food sales up by 1.3pc and by 6.9pc when its franchise and hospitality sales are stripped out.
Its products now account for a quarter of customers' baskets at Ocado, which M&S says outperforms Waitrose, the online supermarket's previous partner.
Those sales are likely to have been skewed by shift towards online grocery shopping during lockdown.
Still, M&S bosses will be confident of maintaining momentum as analysts expect this shift in shopping habits to remain.
Yet in a market where the Big Four grocers, discounters, and increasingly Deliveroo, Uber Eats and Amazon are trying to win shoppers' allegiances, the challenge will be unrelenting.
A clearer picture of where M&S's clothing, home and food businesses will only develop once the impact of the pandemic subsides.
M&S may have been an unfortunate victim of the pandemic, but the crisis has merely exposed weaknesses in the business that management have long recognised.
Namely a bloated store estate that is too focused on its flagging clothing and home arm.
Rowe has not given up on the division just yet though. M&S is attempting to overhaul its range by focusing more on athleisure wear.
Will a gym kit and tracksuit bottoms be enough to get sales moving again?
Whether the answer is spinning off its non-food business, or even steeper cuts, it will take more than Alexa Chung to shake off M&S's financial lethargy as the impact of the pandemic fades.