Clothes retailers Austin Reed and Ted Baker have both reported an increase in sales as high street rival Debenhams mulled over a possible floatation.

Austin Reed said the growth in like-for-like sales at its main chain had accelerated to 2.7 per cent in the 15 weeks to January 14 from one per cent in the previous seven weeks.

Margins were also higher as the firm held its nerve on selling clothes at full prices as demand for men's formal and casualwear rose along with accessories and womenswear.

Recent trading at CC - as the Country Casuals division is now known - was also better as same-store sales stood 10.5 per cent lower over the past 15 weeks compared with a drop of 15 per cent during the seven weeks to October 1.

"Despite this sales performance (at CC), margins are ahead of last year," Austin Reed said.

Meanwhile Ted Baker said its sales rose by 10.7 per cent in the run-up to Christmas.

The chain said it traded well across all its fashion collections in the UK and overseas in the period between November 1 to December 24.

Margins were largely in line with last year and there were clean stock levels going into 2006, the designer clothing brand added.

The sales increase builds on a 20.6 per cent improvement in the lead up to Christmas in 2004. Ted Baker finance director Lindsay Page said the firm was confident of hitting market expectations for profits of around £18.2 million in the year to the end of January, compared with £16.2 million in the previous year.

"It has been a tough retail market but we've got a great product with our trademark attention to detail so when the going gets tough we are likely to outperform our rivals," he said.

Ted Baker's flagship store is in London with others including Leeds, Liverpool and Birmingham. Debenhams could be poised for a stock market return after it was reported that it had taken steps towards a £3 billion listing.

The group, which went private in 2003, is said to have asked four banks, including Merrill Lynch, to prepare a strategic review of its options.

If the flotation goes ahead, it will be one of the biggest in London this year, although the company may opt to remain in private hands and refinance its borrowings again.

Reports said the same four banks appointed by Debenhams were also involved in arranging a £1.9 billion refinancing of Debenhams in May.

The current owners of the business - private equity groups TPC, CVC and Merrill Lynch Private Equity - invested £600 million of equity in 2003 when they outbid Per-mira with a deal worth £1.9 billion, including debt.

Since then, the trio has received capital repayments of about £1.3 billion from Debenhams - more than twice the investment. The rewards were secured after chief executive Rob Templeman made the company's operations more efficient. Sales hit £2 billion for the first time in the year to September 3 while pretax profits soared to £238.6 million compared with £107 million a year earlier.