M&S fashion hitting the mark?

Although Meghan Markle's wearing it, M&S clothing is struggling

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What's happening to M&S fashion?

By Diane Cooke

Although Meghan Markle was recently pictured wearing a simple black M&S jumper, teamed with a pair of black trousers, the store seems to be struggling in the fashion department - and others - of late.

From the beginning, when Marks and Spencer sold its first bra in 1926, the brand became a byword for British-made quality goods.

Shoppers fell in love with 'easy-care' fabric dresses in the 1950s and 60s and with its tailoring and knitwear in the 70s and 80s.

The customer was always right, and they got what they wanted - quality everyday wear.

Almost every woman in the UK owns a piece of M&S clothing, but in more recent times shoppers have been complaining that they can no longer rely on the much-loved store to provide them with wardrobe staples.

As far back as 2013, Kirsty Allsopp explained her reasons for falling out of love with the brand, despite it stocking her own collection.

She said: "I trust Marks & Spencer, but I don't have the sense any more that I will make a real discovery. My fashion advice mainly comes from weekend newspaper supplements, and I don't see a lot of M&S stuff in them. I know they do make-up, shoes, accessories – but I can't remember the last time I saw something in a magazine and thought, "ooh", and then saw it was from M&S.

"M&S can get its position back. The staff have a great attitude, and the company as a whole is a good one. I just think its womenswear has lost its edge."

In July 2016 M&S suffered its biggest fall in clothing sales since the 2008 banking crisis as then new boss Steve Rowe tried to end its reliance on heavy discounting.

The 8.9% fall in underlying clothing and home sales over the previous three months was far bigger than analysts had expected and turned the clock back to 2008 when the retailer had a disastrous Christmas following the collapse of Lehman Brothers.

“These are not the numbers I want to see by any stretch but they are the numbers I expected to see,” said Rowe, who had taken over as chief executive three months previous.

To add to the malaise, the director of clothing and beauty stepped down just weeks before Christmas.

Jo Jenkins, who was appointed in May after holding the role of Director of Womenswear, Lingerie & Beauty for nearly two years, left the chain to join White Stuff.

She was said to be 'disappointed' to have not been selected for the role of managing director for clothing, home & beauty, according to Sky News.

The move is said to be a 'blow' for Rowe, who is being closely observed by new chairman and industry veteran Archie Norman.

The company has blamed unseasonal autumn weather for its latest 2.8% fall in like-for-like sales for its clothing and home division over the Christmas quarter.

The retailer also said food sales were down, by 0.4%, for the 13 weeks to 30 December. Shares were 4% lower in early trading.

Its figures were released at the same time as rival John Lewis, which reported a 3.1% rise in like-for-like sales for the six weeks to 30 December.

But Sir Charlie Mayfield, chairman of the partnership which owns the department store chain as well as supermarket Waitrose, admitted that pressure on profit margins had intensified amid rising costs thanks to the pound's weakness.

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