Party frocks cheer Monsoon profits

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The sun has shone through at Monsoon with booming sales over Christmas, boosted by strong demand for party dresses.

Monsoon, best-known for its ethnic "hippy chic" style womenswear, reported an 18 per cent increase in half-year profits to £16.3m alongside one of the best Christmas trading updates the sector has seen this year. The group said underlying sales in the four weeks to 22 December were up 11 per cent on the same period last year. In the three weeks to 12 January underlying sales were up 35 per cent. Monsoon said the surge had been helped by "buoyant trading on the high street in general and by higher stock levels than last year reflecting our increased confidence in our ranges".

Monsoon is best known for its evening wear but Ms Foster has been working to improve the store's casual ranges since joining from the rival New Look fashion chain last year.

The company now has 145 Monsoon outlets with five more planned for the second half. There are 149 Accessorize outlets, which sell bags, belts, hats and other accessories with a further seven planned this year.

Last Autumn saw the launch of a new range called Monsoon Baby. The company said this had been well received and would be rolled out to 100 stores by the summer. Accessorize Angels, a range for young girls over three years old, has also done well and is now available in most stores in the chain.

Group sales in the six months to 24 November rose by 17 per cent to £99.5m. The shares climbed 7.5p to 93p.

Elsewhere in the retail sector, Carpetright, Britain's biggest carpet retailer, reported sales and gross margins in the second half of its financial year in line with expectations.

Separately, the privately owned jewellery group Mappin & Webb reported a 5.2 per cent increase in underlying sales over Christmas.

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