M&S is now seeking 'street cred' and a new chairman

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Marks & Spencer may be looking for a new chairman but yesterday it stepped up its search for some high street fashion credibility as it unveiled its autumn clothing ranges.

Marks & Spencer may be looking for a new chairman but yesterday it stepped up its search for some high street fashion credibility as it unveiled its autumn clothing ranges.

The struggling retailer, whose sales have tumbled in recent weeks, is planning to shake up the way its customers shop for clothes by launching a series of mix-and-match collections.

For the first time, it will abandon its "one-style-suits-all" approach to selling womenswear by dropping its larger sizes, which currently go up to 26, in some of its new ranges.

"There are styles that look good in plus sizes and some that don't," admitted Vittorio Radice, the Italian who was promoted from head of home to director of clothing earlier this year. His words will come as a blow to thousands of M&S's bigger customers, who have enjoyed the inalienable right to buy the same top and pair of trousers as their size 8 counterparts.

But in an attempt not to hurt their feelings, Mr Radice promises the new-look stores, which he is overseeing, will be divided into separate sections that make it clear where each customer should shop. "It's about making all the stores very well identified so that you don't get upset if you enter Per Una Due and don't find a size 26," he said.

A fitted, Forties-style skirt that Yasmin Yusef, the creative director, tipped yesterday as one of next season's big sellers, stops at a size 16. Its matching black-and-white tweed jacket - M&S is very nervous about calling it a suit - stops at a size 20.

About two-thirds of the group's business comes from selling core ranges in sizes 8 to 26. But it is the remaining third that Mr Radice is seeking to grow by launching styles that will appeal to more fashion-conscious shoppers. "We need to recruit younger customers," he said.

Retail analysts have predicted that this autumn's ranges will be make or break for Roger Holmes, the chief executive. Richard Hymen, who heads the Verdict retail consultancy, said: "The fashion show for autumn could be the single biggest event in M&S's recent history. The fashions could determine Roger's career."

Mr Radice said: "I feel very confident autumn will be a good season for us."

While the clothing on display yesterday picked up the key trends of next season - tweed, fur, cardigans, pencil skirts and cardigans - concerns persist about whether it will be priced competitively enough to compete with the likes of Next. "In some key items I think we need a better [price] realignment and we will do that for the autumn season," Mr Radice pledged.

Although M&S will never be high fashion, this autumn's ranges - due to hit the shops in August - are likely to include some of its more wearable fashions in recent years. It hopes that swapping its formal suits for what it terms "smartwear" - skirts and jumpers that can double up for office and casual duty - will catapult it into the 21st century.

Another revelation for the autumn is its plans to sell its top items - such as a geometric print stretch wrap dress modelled on those made by Diane von Furstenberg, the goddess of the genre - in 200 stores, four times more than stock it currently.

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