By Jonathan Davies

Marks & Spencer has reported its first increase in clothing sales for nearly four years.

The retailer reported a 1.9% rise in sales for the three months to the end of March, but general merchandise, where its clothing accounts for the bulk of it, rose 0.7% compared with the same period last year.

Once the core of its business, Marks & Spencer has consistently seen clothes sales, particularly womenswear, falling in recent years.

Like-for-like food sales, which have performed relatively well during that time, were up 0.9%.

International sales dropped 3.8% as a result of the ongoing economic problems in Russia and Ukraine.

"We had a record Valentine's Day and launched over 350 new products over the quarter," said the company in a statement.

Paul Thomas from retail consultancy Retail Remedy, said that "the brand's core business has ceased misfiring [and] this modest number is worth its weight in gold for Marc Bolland.

"He still has a mountain to climb. Look beyond the flagship locations and many M&S stores are still a mess of baffling sub-brands. The relaunched website fails to inspire, and the brand's ill-starred new distribution centre is still suffering teething problems."