Designer brands give boost to HoF

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The Independent Online

Retailers catering for shoppers at either end of the pricing spectrum are emerging as the biggest beneficiaries of the Christmas period.

Harvey Nichols, the exclusive department store group, yesterday said its sales rose by double digits over Christmas, while New Look, at the cheap chic end of the equation, reported a 3.2 per cent rise in underlying sales.

House of Fraser, which recently joined Baugur's stable of UK retailers, attributed its 7.3 per cent rise in like-for-like sales during the four weeks to 30 December to its focus on designer brands. And Waterford Wedgwood, the top-end Irish ceramic maker, reported its best Christmas trading period in five years.

The polarisation of the high street has left middle-market retailers exposed, as confirmed yesterday by Next's poor trading figures. Alexon, which has a clutch of brands mainly targeted at the conservative, older female shopper, was another victim. Yesterday the company said its like-for-like sales for the 22 weeks to 30 December fell by 4 per cent. Heavy discounting hit Alexon's margins, but the recent sale of its loss-making Dolcis shoe chain will help its profits, it said.

Phil Wrigley, New Look's chief executive, said that, despite unhelpful winter weather, shoppers had snapped up key fashion pieces. He held out the prospect of a return to the stockmarket for the retailer, admitting it was a "possibility" that its private equity owners would float the business. Apax Partners and Permira bought the company almost three years ago, amid accusations from shareholders that they had underpaid. New Look is racing to expand its UK store estate, opening 800,000 sq ft of space this year. This includes 34 former Littlewoods stores and 44 new outlets.

Harvey Nichols said its Christmas trading rounded off a strong year, while House of Fraser said its pre-Christmas week broke all previous sales records. John King, its new chief executive, said margins were in line with expectations. Liberty, the luxury London department store, also had a record Christmas, as did John Lewis Partnership.