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A week in fashion: all eyes on autumn

The autumn 08 high street press shows kicked off this week and there was a clear sense of relief from those directors' in attendance. Talking spring trade was almost off the agenda and newness and the chance to bring autumn stock in early was definitely the debate of the week.

At New Look there was optimism around autumn trading thanks to the season's trends which, according to trend director Barbara Horspool, are stronger than they have been for some time. On the agenda was a harlequin Alice in Wonderland story, a folk meets ethnic trend, feminine florals, ruffle detailing and printed T-shirts.

New Look is also banking on the "adding value" adage to boost its coffers next season and it has more 100% silk dresses and lined jackets in its offer. It has even introduced a £70 mid-calf Italian made leather boot. This is almost certainly a reaction to the beast that is cheap-as-chips Primark, which bucked the downturn trend this week when it reported a like-for-like sales uplift of 4%.

What Primark's performance shows is that it's no longer enough for New Look to do value fashion looks - New Look must differentiate and offer its customers more than Primark can to hold its positioning in the sector. Select is also repositioning away from just value to a niche and younger audience who are currently extremely brand-loyal to Jane Norman. These adaptation strategies will be essential as Primark expands further.

Meanwhile, the former queen of the value sector, Elaine McPherson is mulling a rescue for Ethel Austin and a possible purchase of MK One - the chain she sold to Baugur in 2004. She believes strongly there is still room for a value retailer operating in secondary towns. One suspects that like Select, she has a clearly defined strategy focusing on niche customer groups though. It will be interesting to see if Ethel Austin will go back to its roots, doing what it did best with babywear and kidswear and those cheap essentials like men's pants. One thing's for sure, chasing the likes of New Look and Primark is not an option.

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