An invisible presence: in the end, the statement that Arcadia group had succumbed to insolvency on Monday night was an apt metaphor for Sir Philip Green’s recent stewardship of his Burton-to-Topshop fashion empire.
Confirmation of Deloitte’s appointment as administrator made no reference to the pugilistic Monaco-based tycoon whose family has owned one of Britain’s most prominent high street operators for the best part of two decades.
Instead, it was left to Ian Grabiner, Arcadia’s chief executive, to express the requisite dose of regret.
“This is an incredibly sad day for all of our colleagues as well as our suppliers and our many other stakeholders,” he said.
“Throughout this immensely challenging time our priority has been to protect jobs and preserve the financial stability of the group in the hope that we could ride out the pandemic and come out fighting on the other side.
“Ultimately, however, in the face of the most difficult trading conditions we have ever experienced, the obstacles we encountered were far too severe.”
Doubtless there will be a sharp escalation of anti-Green sentiment in the weeks to come as the scale of the jobs carnage at Arcadia becomes clear.
While no redundancies have been made by Deloitte on its appointment, it is fanciful to believe that most of Arcadia’s 13,000-strong workforce have cause for optimism about continued employment with the company.
There will be a vigorous battle to buy Topshop and Topman, the group’s best-known and most successful brands.
Boohoo group, Next, JD Sports Fashion and the ubiquitous figure of Mike Ashley through his Frasers Group will inevitably participate in a hotly contested auction which could be concluded within a matter of weeks.
Even then, though, at least one of the prospective bidders – Boohoo – might wish to retain Topshop’s Oxford Circus flagship store while eschewing the rest of its physical store estate.
Miss Selfridge and Burton, too, might tempt bidders from among the plethora of “distressed investors” that specialise in – often vain – attempts to revive tired and underinvested retail brands.
As for the likes of Evans, Outfit and Wallis, the immediate prospects look even bleaker – they could easily join the multitude of fashion names littering the high street like carcasses after a decade in which Britain’s high streets have been hollowed out by unforgiving changes in consumer behaviour.
The coronavirus pandemic has accelerated many of the brutal trends that have left once-proud industry names struggling for survival.
Sir Philip has committed no crime in being unable to buck that trend.
But as the political clamour grows for the Green family to provide sufficient funding to allow Arcadia’s pension scheme members to have their retirement funds paid out in full, the tycoon will find – once again – that disappearing into the winter Monaco sunshine is not as easy as having his name omitted from an announcement he must have hoped would never see the light of day.