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Per Una is only sub-brand ‘safe from Bolland’ at M&S

Per Una is the only sub-brand safe from Marks & Spencer chief executive Marc Bolland’s shake-up of the chain’s clothing offer, fashion retail experts have claimed.

Bolland has tasked his most senior managers to scrutinise M&S’s fashion ranges and present their findings in mid-September.

The results will form part of a larger review of the business, which is due to be outlined to the City this autumn, and which is expected to result in some of the retailer’s own labels being dropped.

Indigo Collection, M&S’s casualwear range aimed at women over 30, and Portfolio, targeted at women over 45, are thought to be likely casualties. However, analysts and retailers told Drapers that all M&S sub-brands were potentially in the firing line except for Per Una, which had sales of about £500m in 2008.

One source close to the company said: “Per Una is safe, as long as it retains its identity. The way it was set up, driven and designed [externally] has helped it establish a defined customer base and handwriting.”

Sarah Peters, senior retail analyst at Verdict Research, added: “Per Una has had the most investment - it’s got its own distinct shopfit and identity [so] I wouldn’t expect it to be chopped.”

Per Una was created for M&S by retail entrepreneur George Davies. M&S bought the sub-brand outright in 2004 for £125m. It has consistently been one of M&S’s strongest-performing collections. Bolland singled it out for praise last month when M&S reported a 7.4% rise in clothing sales in the first quarter to July 3, after it sold 10,000 Per Una stripy knitwear items.

However, M&S has come under fire for having too many sub-brands which confuse shoppers. It has 10 womenswear sub-brands and sub-sub-brands, including Per Una, Limited Collection and Autograph. North Coast, Blue Harbour and Big & Tall are among its six menswear sub-brands and sub-sub-brands.

Touker Suleyman, owner of M&S supplier Low Profile, said: “Per Una works and in menswear Blue Harbour is a great brand, but I can’t work out where Portfolio or Indigo sit. M&S knows what the brands stand for but the consumer doesn’t.”

Investec analyst Katharine Wynne said many of M&S’s brands overlap. “I particularly dislike the unnecessary sub-division within the sub-brands - Autograph, Autograph Weekend, Autograph Collections - there is even Per Una Speziale.”

The sub-brand review has been welcomed by analysts and M&S staff. Wynne added: “There has been some disquiet in M&S for a while about the number of sub-brands. Only some M&S product has been bought by sub-brand. The rest is bought by category. The discipline has disappeared.”

M&S this week confirmed HMV chairman Robert Swannell is to succeed Sir Stuart Rose as chairman on January 4. Analysts said his appointment is likely to thaw relations between M&S and the City.

Separately, M&S is to open its first distribution centre with a rail terminal in 2012. It has agreed a lease on a 900,000 sq ft site near Castle Donington in Leicestershire.

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