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Two twists in the tale from retailers

A few days at Barcelona streetwear show Bread & Butter was a welcome reminder of why it is vital to get out in the market as often as possible, whether it's by stalking the floors of your competitors, hunting out new showrooms or wearing out shoe leather at a trade show.

A good show or showroom will have a buzz about it that can buoy you up and enthuse you about what you do and why you do it. From a UK perspective, I learned a lot in a flying two-day visit, particularly on menswear and womenswear, and there were some surprisingly upbeat messages to take home.

A wide take on the 1980s trends, which stretched from brash neons to retro sportswear, meant retailers were faced with some looks that actually felt fresh rather than just a rehash or catch-up of what the high street multiples are already offering. Plus, there were plenty of brands at the show that presented good-quality short-order ranges - some of which you could have in your shop within two weeks of ordering.

Bread & Butter also gave the Drapers team an insight into how mixed the trading picture is out there. I spoke to one retailer who was trading up and offering more contemporary streetwear brands in an upmarket boutique environment. He was in the process of opening a new store and was on a high off the back of strong trading.

On the other hand, I heard of another established young fashion indie whose owner had sold his house and moved in with his parents as a desperate act to ensure he stayed in business after two terrible seasons.

Marks & Spencer boss Stuart Rose summed up the volatility of the market this week when he announced the retailer's latest results. The message from the M&S supremo was clear: high street trading will continue to be "challenging".

A perfect storm of five successive interest rate hikes, coupled with the extreme weather conditions of the past two months, is making it difficult for retailers to accurately gauge what's going on with consumer spending. Any answers to that conundrum are unlikely to surface quickly.

The trend towards prolonged warm autumns could mean that it won't be until after Christmas that we will really understand what's driving the consumer psyche and how shoppers have digested the latest demands on their wallets.

Trading aside, there was one throwaway remark made by Rose at the M&S AGM that sparked my interest. When he was quizzed by a shareholder who proudly told him she was dressed head to foot in Primark, he declined to make a comment. Then, like the now infamous "weather is for wimps" quip, he just couldn't resist and added: "... other than it won't last".

When Rose made the weather remark, you could feel the whole of the fashion retail community all willing his words to come back and bite him on the bottom. Even though Rose's "it won't last" quip was aimed at the lifespan of his questioner's clothing, I suspect that he and most of his peers will be sincerely hoping that the same sentiment applies to the Primark phenomenon.

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