Debenhams banking on 'femme fatale' look

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The Independent Online

The chief executive of Debenhams is "cautiously optimistic" that this autumn's tailored Femme Fatale looks will play to the department store group's strengths, as shoppers rebel against the glut of poor quality garments on sale elsewhere.

Rob Templeman, who brought the group back to the stock market in May, said yesterday a "flight to quality" had helped trading pick up after a slow start to the summer. He said this autumn's 1950s and 1960s-inspired fashions were fuelling demand for design-led pieces after the lack of a key look over the summer.

In the group's first trading update since its return to quoted life, Debenhams said like-for-like sales rose 0.5 per cent in the 52 weeks to 2 September. This was weaker than some analysts had expected but the group is confident of meeting City profit expectations of £164m-£169m after its gross margins "continued to improve".

Shares in the group slipped 0.25p to 191.75p, remaining below their initial public offer price of 195p.

Mr Templeman said this season's key trends - "chic, Marilyn Monroe tailoring we are calling Femme Fatale" - suited the Designers at Debenhams sub-brands. He said the looks required more expensive fabrics to work, predicting that shoppers would spurn some cheaper lines produced by some rivals. "Our designer ranges are starting to sell well," he added.

His comments echoed those made by the John Lewis Partnership last week, which also said it was seeing stronger growth of designer products.

Fashion retailers have struggled this summer against tough comparatives last year when an easy-to-make boho gypsy look reigned supreme on the high street. With no dominant trend, some discount fashion players have struggled: even the darling of the sector, Primark, reported flat like-for-like sales last week.

Mr Templeman said Debenhams had enjoyed a strong end to the year, estimating that excluding the impact of the delayed summer sale its like-for-like sales climbed by 4 to 5 per cent.

Looking to the run-up to Christmas, he said: "I'm cautiously optimistic. We've seen autumn fashion pick up when the weather is on our side. I don't think the consumer has gone away but retailers have to work hard to get every penny."