Marks & Spencer is showing signs of improvement in its crucially important clothing business, Retail Week has learned.

Following sustained periods of decline the retailer held its overall clothing market share flat in the 24 weeks to the end of September, according to Kantar fashion market data leaked to Retail Week.

In the vital womenswear category, where M&S has been under pressure, a decline of 0.2% in the 24 weeks was an improvement on the 0.5% fall in the previous period.

The performance will give Marks & Spencer chief executive Marc Bolland room to breathe. In its last financial year the retailer’s market share in clothing and footwear declined by 0.4 percentage points by value, the retailer’s annual report showed. Its market share by volume was down 0.3 percentage points.

The improving performance emerged ahead of M&S’s interim results next Tuesday and will encourage Bolland that the retailer’s fashion fortunes are on the up under the leadership of general merchandise boss John Dixon and style supremo Belinda Earl.

The pair were parachuted in last year to turn around the clothing arm after sustained like-for-like sales declines.

Their first full collection was this year’s autumn range and City investors made clear that they expected it to deliver or Bolland would face increased pressure.

The consensus expectation for M&S’s first-half profits is £262m, which is below last year’s figure.

Analysts have pencilled in a second quarter general merchandise like-for-like sales decline of between 0.4% and 2.5%.