Department store chain Marks & Spencer Plc (M&S) has approached Stephen Sunnucks, CEO of discount fashion retailer New Look Plc, to head its clothing business, the Daily Telegraph has reported.

M&S, in a bid to prop up its reportedly ailing clothing division, recently appointed recruitment firm Egon Zehnder to search for a suitable candidate for the role.

According to reports, sales of clothing at M&S are currently running at up to 10 per cent below the same period a year ago.

Women's fashion and party wear are said to be the worst hit, while sales of children's clothing continue their downward slide.

If the figures are accurate, the sales slump could be a huge blow for the company as the pre-Christmas season typically accounts for about 35 per cent of its annual sales.

It could also cut into staff bonuses for the company's 65,000 employees.

An M&S spokeswoman refused to comment on the claims ahead of the group's trading statement on January 14.

"We cannot comment on rumour and speculation about bonuses," she said.

According to the Daily Telegraph, former Debenhams CEO Belinda Earl has also been approached by Egon Zehnder on M&S's behalf.