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High street crosses Channel

Marks & Spencer opens on the Champs-Elysées to challenge French fashion

THE UPROAR caused when Marks & Spencer withdrew from the French market 10 years ago, sparking street protests and, in more recent years, a Facebook campaign demanding the return of its food to Paris, is about to be salved when a branch of the British chain opens on the Champs-Elysées this month.

There will only be a small amount of food in the 1,400sq.m store – sandwiches and other favourites – and no menswear, but other branches will be opening in the capital later, along with Simply Food branches.

While there is no doubt that the British staples on offer will go down as well as ever (even if such things are certainly easier to find in France now than they were a decade ago), it is the fashion that will be the real test of the company.

Bringing fashion to Paris is a risky business: indeed, British envy of French chic has become something of a cliché. But the newly launched website,, marking its new “bricks and clicks” strategy, is just one in a small flurry of the British high-street’s incursions into the French fashion market.

Tesco also announced last month the launch of online shop aiming to sell its popular budget-friendly clothes to expats on

John Lewis, too, launched international delivery to France in October, and, of course, Boden made a slightly controversial entry to the market last month - and gained press acclaim for its offerings, in spite of Johnny Boden’s disparaging comments about French women.

It is Boden and Marks & Spencer that appear to have made the most commitment to winning over the whole nation – rather than simply appealing to its British inhabitants – with the websites in French in continental sizes. While the Boden site is all-but identical in both languages, Marks & Spencer looks to have tailored its site to appeal to what it perceives to be a French aesthetic.

While the clothes on offer are the same – Autograph, Limited, the cashmeres and lingerie – the presentation is significantly different. Limited, for example, which offers slightly younger, edgier fashions, has its clothes styled up into different mini-collections on each site. The UK site offers geometric, Navajo-inspired looks in “Aztek” and grungy rock-chick style in “Vive La Rock”. The French versions are more sophisticated: “Beat Generation Collection” is inspired by 1960s Mods and “The Salon” channels the 1970s – albeit in a very understated way.

Interestingly, the M&S “faces” are the same for both: will archetypal British beauty Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, suave US actor Ryan Reynolds and male supermodel David Gandy appeal to the French, or should they be securing Marion Cotillard or Louis Garrel? Only the sales will tell.

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