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Tough trading? Stick to what you know

At the company's results announcement this week, Marks & Spencer chief executive Stuart Rose said there was no major fashion trend this season, which could potentially make things quite difficult. But judging by the robustness of the retailer's performance in spite of this (see page 3), M&S needn't worry too much.

However, not all fashion brands and retailers are blessed with an M&S-style balance sheet and Rose is quite right, of course. Much of what we're seeing on the rails this season is an adaptation of the past autumn/winter ranges, and if you're bored of tunics and smocks, be prepared to remain so - they will be a major force this autumn too.

But while we're lacking a major new trend when it comes to silhouettes and styles, the thinking and strategy of many of our major fashion brands and retailers does seem to be following a similar tack - that of getting back to their roots.

The story from so many retailers, many of which have been presenting their autumn 07 offers in recent weeks, has been strikingly similar: "We've gone back to what we stand for and we're building on that." One example you'll find in this issue is Pringle, which has drawn on its heritage but added a wholly modern take to create its acclaimed 1815 label (see our brand profile on page 62).

As it turns 25, Next is also showing signs of resurrecting some of those qualities that made it one of the UK's most respected fashion retailers (check out this week's news analysis on page 10).

Looking at why you were so successful in the first place and ensuring you apply it to everything you do is simple, isn't it? Yet given the number of brands that have announced their strategy is to do just that, it's seemingly just as simple to forget it.

Naturally, if your brand is a bit rubbish in the first place then a change of course is no bad thing. But if you're known for great service, great value, great quality, a great heritage or a certain design signature or product quirk, then it can be a huge mistake to lose sight of it or expand into areas to which you are unable to apply your ethos.

M&S knows this more than anyone else and its recovery (and I believe we're allowed to call it that now) has been centred on recapturing those brand values so treasured and trusted by its customers. That doesn't mean it's sticking to the knitting - failure to innovate is just as bad as failure to remain true to your brand - but it won't, says Rose, lose sight of what it stands for.

The retailer plans to add more electricals to its product mix, for instance, bringing non-M&S branded product into its offer, but this product will be sold and serviced according to M&S's high standards. "We would never do anything to prejudice our brand," says Rose.

If fashion retailers large and small stuck by this mantra, perhaps more of us could dismiss the need for major trends, as Rose so famously dismissed the weather, as being only for wimps.

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