Marks & Spencer wants fashion to get it out of trouble

Marks & Spencer is making a strong bid to change the direction of its profit line from downwards to upwards, and financial analysts are watching with interest to see how the latest approach pans out. The strategy includes a new general merchandise team put together by M&S chief executive Marc Bolland and led by John Dixon, formerly director of M&S’s food business, along with the former CEO of Debenhams and Jaeger, Belinda Earl.

As the largest clothing retailer in Britain, M&S has been having a less-than-wonderful couple of years, with their clothing sales showing a decline for seven straight quarters. Dixon, who became CEO in 2010, has been getting pressure from investors to turn that trend around, and he told reporters this week that the new fall collection is expected to be the first step in doing so.

The intent at present is to revamp M&S as “a leading, premium fashion retailer” and to that end the new team has come up with plans and strategies to make quality and fashion the keynotes of M&S clothing lines for men and women, but with womenswear a top priority. They are improving the quality of fabric, fit and finish in lines such as “London Calling” and “Modern Elegance”.

“Womenswear is the golden key to the golden door,” said Dixon. “If you get womenswear firing on all cylinders, then there’s normally a halo effect into the other parts of our clothing and home business.” M&S will be launching its core M&S Clothing Collection for the Autumn/Winter season next week, and it will be a change from the M&S Man and M&S Woman brands that were launched in 2010.

The new line targeting younger shoppers is called Limited Edition and the one aimed at older, more conservative customers will still be called M&S Classics, but will also be part of the M&S Collection.

The official line is very firm about the “first step” aspect of the changes; Dixon says there will no impact on sales until the fall/winter collection hits the stores in July.