New fashion range test for M&S boss

Marc BollandMarks & Spencer's boss Marc Bolland faces a key test of his efforts to revive the retailer's fortunes when a new fashion team presents the chain's latest ranges.

Mr Bolland carried out a major reshuffle last year amid sliding sales but insisted that the impact of the changes in clothing would not be felt until after this year's spring and summer lines, which were put together by the previous regime.

The executive makeover received a major setback when "Knicker Queen" Janie Schaffer walked out after just three months as director of lingerie and beauty.

But much is still riding on the success of the autumn/winter ranges being shown on Tuesday, to arrive in stores from July. Particular attention will be focused on womenswear, which has suffered from poor buying decisions in recent years, contributing recently to the company's seventh quarter in a row of falling sales in general merchandise.

The 12 weeks to February 13 saw M&S's share of the clothing and footwear market slide to 11.1% from 11.5% a year earlier, according to recent Kantar Worldpanel figures.

Rivals such as Debenhams and H&M are seen as having stolen a march on M&S by attracting on-trend fashion shoppers with their designer ranges, while Marks was still using 1960s model Twiggy for celebrity inspiration. There has also been criticism of its basic and dependable ranges such as underwear, knitwear and simple tops.

Belinda Earl, the former Debenhams and Jaeger boss brought in as Marks's new style director last summer, has been charged with revitalising womenswear, promising to give customers "added value" for their money.

In a newspaper interview last week, she said: "I want women to be proud of a garment when they take it off and hang it on the back of a chair." She told the Daily Mail the number of looks had been cut by 15% and that M&S's new collection had not "chased every catwalk trend". Cluttered store layouts would be changed so "it won't look like we're permanently on sale", she added.

Also under pressure to revitalise the retailer is former M&S food boss John Dixon, brought in as head of general merchandise. He will be hoping that Jo Jenkins, poached from Next to take charge of lingerie and beauty after the departure of Ms Schaffer, can also play her part in restoring fortunes.

Analysts say a sustained improvement in Marks's womenswear offering is key to its turnaround - three years after Mr Bolland took over as chief executive.

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