British Menswear and Womenswear
View French Connection Fashion collections on London Fashion Review Blog
A History of French Connection UK (FCUK)
French Connection was founded in London in 1969 as a small womenswear retailer of upmarket tailoring. In the early 1970’s, the French Connection brand was established and rapidly expanded to include menswear and childrenswear. The brand prides itself on design-led fashion forward clothing with a quirky edge that appeals to the youthful fashion market. The brand gained notoriety in the 1990’s with the infamous ‘FCUK’ marketing campaigns that still form a part of every season’s collections. The brand now produces a range of items including toiletries, sunglasses, opticals, watches and shoes.
The company sells its products principally through a global network of retail stores throughout Europe, North America, and Japan – as well as online through its e-commerce business. French Connection also offers its products through department stores and multi-brand fashion stores, which are bought through its wholesale operations based in London, New York, Milan and Hong Kong.
The French Connection Group (parent company) also offers products through the brands TOAST, Great Plains, and YMC.
- 1969: The Company is founded by Stephen Marks in London as Mark Stephens London Ltd producing a range of tailored upmarket womenswear.
- 1972: Marks introduces French Connection as a label and the first store opens in London.
- 1976: French Connection launches its first menswear collection.
- 1978: Nicole Farhi joins French Connection as chief designer. She created the youth-oriented designs for the French Connection label and produced designs under her own name for an older, wealthier women’s market.
- 1984: French Connection prepared to launch in the United States, partnering with American Michael Axelrod in a joint venture Best of All Clothes to wholesale the French Connection brand.
- 1986: French Connection is floated on the London Stock Exchange.
- Late 1980s: French Connection hit hard times getting caught up in the global recession,. In 1989 major shareholder Stephen Marks resigned from the CEO chair to be replaced by Michael Shen. Threatened with the loss of his majority share and in order to rescue the company, Marks lent French Connection more than £3.5 million.
- 1991: Unhappy with Michael Shen, Stephen Marks retakes his place as company CEO, and works on turning the fortunes of the brand around.
- 1996: Company pays out first stockholder dividends since 1991.
- 1997: With help of independent advertiser Trevor Beattie the acronym FCUK (French Connection United Kingdom) was created, soon to become a global marketing sensation.
- 2000: The company signs a partnership agreement with D’Urban Inc. in Japan.
- 2001: Flagship stores in both San Francisco and London are launched. Additionally, the company acquires 100% of BOAC and opens the first store in Tokyo.
- 2010: French Connection entered into a licence with Li & Fung in the US to supply clothing products to the Sears department stores
- 2011: The brand was one of the first to launch an e-commerce store on Facebook. Additionally, French Connection enters the world of m-commerce for the first time by launching an Apple iPhone app that allows customers to buy products directly from their mobile phone.
French Connection – Brand Extensions and Licensed Products
The French Connection and fcuk brands have been extended successfully into a wide variety of licensed products including, shoes, watches, jewellery, eyewear and men’s and women’s toiletries. In 2010, French Connection entered into a licence with Li & Fung in the US to supply clothing products to the Sears department stores under the brand ‘UK Style by French Connection’, which is sold in over 500 Sears stores throughout the US.
The French Connection brand accounts for over 90% of the broader group’s revenue. The remaining revenue is generated from brand’s that French Connection has acquired, which include:-
- TOAST: A menswear and womenswear brand also supplying unique homeware, available on-line, through mail order and in a number of branded stores.
- Great Plains: A fashion basics range produced in-house and supplied at wholesale to multi-brand retailers in the UK and also available online/
- YMC: Acquired in the late 1990’s YMC is a contemporary boutique fashion label for men and women based in London and a growing wholesale base.
- Nicole Farhi: Sold in 2010, Nicole Farhi is a fashion lifestyle brand producing womenswear, menswear and home furnishings as well having a series of showrooms and concept restaurants in London.
The French Connection Brand: No Stranger to Controversy
In 1997, a breakthrough marketing campaign was to cause great controversy, but also would serve to increase the brands profile significantly. The marketing campaign played on the acronym FCUK and initially consisted of a series of deliberately provocative adverts featuring models wearing ‘fcuk fashion’. The campaign expanded to include more playful advertising, heavily playing on the risqué appeal of the FCUK logo. Slogans included ‘lucky fcuk’ and ‘fcuk all night long’. Complaints rolled in including from the Church of England for their ‘fcuk Christmas’ campaign. This resulted in an investigation from the UK’s Advertising Standards Association, resulting in some censorship, but significantly increased exposure for the French Connection brand name. The controversy surrounding the new advertising campaign undoubtedly contributed to the h fortunes of the company. French Connection’s sales took off, reaching £83 million in 1997 and topping £117 million by 1999.
In 2006, French Connection replaced the controversial fcuk advertising with the launch of the Fashion vs Style campaign. The first advertisement in the campaign was directed by Duncan Jones, son of David Bowie and featured warring girls in the roles of Fashion and Style and a lesbian kiss.
This advertising campaign was also to be a source of controversy. Over 120 complaints were generated in the first week of the campaign, claiming that the adverts were offensive, promoted random acts of violence and were being provocative for the sake of it. Unlike the infamous FCUK campaign, the adverts did little to curb consumers’ enthusiasm for the brand, as profits swung from £5.1 million in the green, to losses of £3.6 million – their first loss in 14 years.
Future of the French Connection label
In 2010 French Connection was forced to undergo a major shake up after making a loss of £24.9 million in the 2009/2010 financial year. The company sold its Nicole Farhi brand to the private equity firm OpenGate Capital for £5m at a reported loss of £5.7 million. French Connection closed several loss-making stores in Europe and US and exited operations in Japan. Instead, French Connection opted for licensing agreements, including with Hong Kong’s Li & Fung Ltd and Sears.
The Company’s shake up appears to have been successful in allowing the brand to focus back on the core brands and remove profit-depleting businesses. The net loss for the financial year 2010/2011 dropped to £2.3 million pounds and shares have tripled since selling the loss-making Nicole Farhi brand in July of 2010.
In 2011 the brand expects to sell more of its product lines at full price after seeing a significant move away from clearing stock. Prices rose by 8% for its 2011 Spring collection and we can expect another 8% increase for the winter 2011 collection. In the future, French Connection expects to open franchised outlets in Russia, Hungary, India, Hong Kong and China in a bid to target the faster growing consumer economies of the world.
To take a full look at the recent collections of French Connection visit the official website.