By  on November 8, 2006

LONDON — Profits at Marks & Spencer Group plc surged 33 percent to 281.3 million pounds, or $520.6 million, from 212.6 million pounds, or $387.2 million, in the six months ended Sept. 30, due to a mix of rising sales and plumper gross margins.

The company said Tuesday that sales rose in nearly every product category — with women's wear leading the pack. Overall, revenues increased 11 percent to 3.93 billion pounds, or $7.27 billion, from 3.54 billion pounds, or $6.45 billion.

"We had a good first half," said chief executive officer Stuart Rose, who has been in charge of the turnaround at the store. "We have gained market share in all areas in which we trade."

Rose added that trading in the first five weeks of the third quarter was in line with first-half trends — despite tougher comparatives. "We believe we are well-positioned for the all-important Christmas period," he said.

In recent seasons, M&S has made strong efforts on the women's wear front especially, investing in high-profile ad campaigns starring Erin O'Connor, Twiggy, Laura Bailey and Bryan Ferry to give the brand a hipper image on a cutthroat competitive high street.

The company has also embraced catwalk trends offering Sixties-inspired A-line coats and short double-breasted jackets, knit dresses with scoop necks and a host of cashmere separates this fall.

The store's particular challenge has been keeping in step with cutting-edge British high street fashion while not isolating the store's more traditional, middle England customers.

Its efforts appear to be paying off. M&S' share of the U.K. women's wear market rose in the first half to 10.5 percent from 9.4 percent.

M&S does not break out sales for specific brand categories, but only said clothing sales, as a whole, were up 9.3 percent. Lingerie's market share rose to 25.6 percent from 24.1 percent and men's wear jumped to 9 percent from 8.3 percent.

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