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The BBC's Kully Dhadda reports
"M&S need to concentrate its energies on getting its basic ranges."
 real 56k

Wednesday, 28 March, 2001, 16:06 GMT 17:06 UK
M&S gets ahead with designer hat
The designer Autonomy range is a strategic approach to raise fashion sales.
Designer Philip Treacy is bringing high fashion to M&S
Twelve months after it was launched, Marks and Spencer's much-criticised Autograph designer collection is expanding.

A new range of hats and bags by the renowned fashion designer Philip Treacy is being introduced in an effort to give its fashion sales a much-needed boost.

M&S's January's trading statement showed sales were sliding - adding to the problems that have seen its share price remains close to 10 year lows.

Designer ranges have been a successful step for other retailers and M&S hope that theirs will cater for the changing tastes of its customers.

Pricey

"Customers are much more aware of fashion, they are reading a lot more fashion magazines, they are seeing a lot more from catwalks," explains Carol Richardson, PR manager, Marks & Spencer.

Autonomy range - designer collaboration may give Marks and Spencer the edge over other high street retailers.
Critics say the Autograph range is too pricey

"They are buying from a much wider range of retailers and we have to be more competitive, we have to be up with the trends which is why we are introducing this range."

The main criticism aimed at the Autograph range has been that it is pricey and yet lacks the exclusivity of a designer brand.

Betty Jackson one of its designers, says the range is under constant review, but producing designer clothes for a mass market presents some interesting difficulties.

"We were very aware that it had to fit a very wide size ratio and also be available at quite a keen price.

"That automatically puts conditions there but it is a challenge."

Focusing on the luxury end of the market is a key part of the new Chairman Luc Vandevelde's strategy to tackle the company's falling sales and he has given himself a two year deadline to turn the company around.

Sceptical

Marks and Spencer's critics argue that venturing into the designer market, where it is competing head-on with long established brand names, is a risky strategy and one that may not necessarily pay-off.

Customers shopping at Marks and Spencer, London
Customers are more aware of fashion trends

They say that M&S needs to concentrate its energies on getting its basic ranges right by supplying its customers with quality clothing at affordable high street prices.

Customers also remain sceptical as to the success of this approach.

"I think they need to change their lines of clothing more often and probably lower the price a little," says one shopper.

Others feel similarly.

"I think they are trying to be a high fashion shop, whereas I think they should stick to just being a basic fashion shop with good, reliable, everyday wear."

As the economy begins to slow down and clothing along with many other luxury goods become more exposed M&S's biggest challenge will be to win back customers in an increasingly difficult market.

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See also:

12 Mar 01 | Business
Womenswear sales hit 10-year low
28 Feb 01 | Business
Court blow for M&S supplier
02 Feb 01 | Business
Designer George hired by M&S
28 Jan 01 | Business
M&S chief blames Greenbury for slump
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