Who are the major French distributors of women's ready wear clothing? Latest figures show that not only are traditional departmental stores and independent shops holding their own, they are actually increasing their share of a market which last year was estimated to be worth 5.2 billion euros.

This is in stark contrast to the situation at grocery supermarkets and multiple mixed retailer stockists. Over the last 12 months these have seen their market share decline by 10 per cent.

In the departmental and independent sector, however, increases in sales of mainstream fashion merchandise were just 1.3 per cent. Most additional business comes from separates and casual clothing, with blouses and T-shirts setting the pattern for a return to general retail prosperity.

Indeed leading market analysts are now predicting that by the end of 2002, French ready-to-wear trade will have fully recovered from the downturn experienced in the wake of last year's September 11 disasters and be on course to net sales in excess of 11 billion euros.

By Sonia Roberts.