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Monday, 23 October, 2000, 16:20 GMT 17:20 UK
M&S launches underwear boutiques
Model in M&S underwear
M&S will, through msl, exploit its key lingerie market
Retail giant Marks & Spencer is ditching the image which has made it famous in a chain of lingerie 'sanctums' opened in the latest drive to revive profitability.

Marks & Spencer, which attained retail dominance through its identikit town centre department stores, is launching a specialist lingerie arm selling through shops one tenth the size of a high street M&S.

We are looking to create a sanctum for female shoppers

M&S spokesman

The new division, named "msl", standing for Marks & Spencer Lingerie, will carry conventional M&S lingerie plus exclusive ranges.

Msl stores will be unrecognisable from traditional M&S shops, boasting sofas, and products displayed in wooden frames and wrapped in tissue paper.

'Sanctum for female shoppers'

"There will be no M&S branding," M&S spokesman Louis Hill told BBC News Online.

"The shops will have a boutique-type feel. We are looking to create a sanctum for female shoppers, if that doesn't sound too fussy."

The firm will open msl boutiques in Paris, Dusseldorf and Hamburg next month, and assess sales before deciding how to develop the chain.

"At this stage it is early to say whether msl will come to the UK," Mr Hill said.

"The three stores planned are trial stores. We will have to see how they go before deciding the best direction for msl."

Underwear overdrive

The move represents a further focus by M&S on its core lingerie market, which accounts for one fifth of sales in the company's 30 Continental stores.

Model in Agent Provocatuer lingerie
Agent Provocateur: input in M&S range

The firm last year hired Joseph Corre, the designer behind the Agent Provocateur brand, to create a racy range of M&S lingerie.

And in March M&S took a stake in online lingerie company Splendour.com.

In the UK, M&S claims one third of the lingerie market.

Return to roots

The move also represents a return to small-scale outlets for M&S, which developed from a market stall opened by Russian refugee Michael Marks in Leeds in 1884.

"The three msl stores will have cost less than 1m altogether to open, including market research, rather than the 7m needed for something the size of the Boulevard Haussman [Paris] store," Mr Hill said.

M&S grew in the 1920s through implementing innovations such as buying directly from manufacturers, and went on to build a UK-wide chain of department stores. The flagship Marble Arch shop opened in 1930.

But the company has recently struggled to thrive in the increasingly competitive UK retail environment. M&S shares earlier this month dipped below 2 for the first time in 10 years.

M&S shares closed up 3.5p at 173.5p in London on Monday.

The msl stores in Avenue Victor Hugo in Paris and Centro Oberhausen outside Dusseldorf will open on 2 November.

The Hamburg store will open on 4 November.

M&S also announced on Monday that Roger Holmes, the former head of a 3bn electrical arm at Kingfisher who is to head UK retail activities at Marks & Spencer, will take on the position on 1 January next year.

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See also:

12 Oct 00 | Business
M&S woes grow
03 Oct 00 | Business
M&S shares fall to 10-year low
23 Sep 00 | Business
M&S 'to close 20 stores'
18 Sep 00 | Business
M&S boss stands down
15 Sep 00 | Business
M&S boss 'set' to go
26 Mar 00 | Business
M&S buys into online lingerie
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