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Maxi dresses sweep into the high street's summer sellers

Womenswear multiples are hailing floor-skimming maxi dresses as the early trend hit for summer, amid positive trading on the high street.

Retailers told Drapers that the 1970s-inspired style was set to be high summer's key fashion item, but added that the look was unlikely to outstrip sales of tunics and smocks.

New Look trend director Barbara Horspool said: "The look won't overtake tunics and smocks, but once it gets hotter we'll see the trend out on the streets."

However, Topshop has tipped the style as the "statement shape of the summer", while Arcadia-owned sister chain Miss Selfridge sold out of its Coachella maxi style as soon as it hit the shops. It has already placed repeat orders for the dress.

Asos.com retail director Robert Bready told Drapers that the style is "without a doubt" the look for the summer. He said: "We introduced maxis last week and they have flown out. We will revisit the style and double our buy for summer, so a third of our dress offer online will be the maxi style."

The managing director of one young fashion multiple said that trade across the young fashion market was strong overall, especially on the back of a fortnight of warmer weather, which has given an earlier-than-usual insight into potential summer hits.

However, he said the trend would not work for everyone. "It's not that easy to wear. We've bought into it, but it isn't going to beat sales of tunics," he said. "You have to be a certain shape to wear a maxi dress."

Laura Ashley buying director Nick Kaloyirou also backed the maxi. He said he had committed to the trend, adding that the retailer had relaunched a cotton maxi-dress that was first produced in the 1960s. The style sold out on Laura Ashley's transactional website in one day.

Norrie Stewart, chief executive of Internaaionale, said the spring sunshine had lured shoppers into stores. "Trading has been terrific and we had a very good Easter. The sun in the sky reminds shoppers that they need to buy new clothes. It is better than last spring, which was very dull."

According to research firm SPSL, retail footfall is up year on year for the first time in a year. In March, the Retail Traffic Index was 1.5% higher than for the same month in 2006. It also showed a 1.1% rise against February 2007.

WHAT THEY SAY ABOUT THE MAXI

- Nick Kaloyirou, buying director, Laura Ashley

The maxi dress feels like a new look. Although tunics will continue to do well, the style has been around for a while now, and the maxi is fresh and relaxed. Indications are that the style is going to sell really well."

- Tom Young, design manager, Oasis

"Smocks and tunics have been really successful and are still very strong. Maxi dresses are early winners, but there's room for both; they're such different silhouettes. We're very pleased with the spring season so far."

- Norrie Stewart, chief executive, Internaaionale

"We've bought into the trend. But most of our volume will come from more conventional styles."

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