French Connection (clothing)
|Traded as||LSE: FCCN|
|Key people||Stephen Marks, Chairman & CEO
Adam Castleton, Finance Director
Neil Williams, Operations Director
|Products||Clothing, accessories, watches, fragrances, toiletries, glasses, etc.|
|Revenue||£189.4 million GBP (2014)|
French Connection (also branded as FCUK) is a UK-based global retailer and wholesaler of fashion clothing, accessories and homeware. Founded in the early 1970s by Stephen Marks, who remains chief executive, it is based in London and its parent French Connection Group plc is listed on the London Stock Exchange.
French Connection distributes its clothing and accessories through its own stores in the UK, US and Canada and through franchise and wholesale arrangements globally. The company became notorious for the use of the "fcuk" acronym in its advertising campaigns in the early 2000s.
Other brands currently within the group include Great Plains, Toast and YMC. Former brands include Nicole Farhi.
Stephen Marks, who started out in business in 1969 as the Stephen Marks brand, established French Connection in 1972 – a year after the film of the same name was released. Initially designed as a mid-market women's brand, he has said the name came about because he managed to acquire a large shipment of Indian cheesecloth shirts – via a French contact – that could be resold in the UK at a large profit. The business expanded into menswear in 1976.
After Marks floated the French Connection brand on the London Stock Exchange in 1984, he was listed as the 15th richest man in Britain, but by the late 1980s the company was in trouble. He took control of the direction of French Connection again in 1991.
FCUK branding controversy
French Connection began using the branding "fcuk" (usually written in lowercase) in advertising after 1991 when Marks regained control. Reportedly, the first use of the acronym was on faxes sent between Hong Kong and London offices, headed "FCHK to FCUK". Marks said in a subsequent interview that the faxes were not intended to be rude. The advertising campaign came about because he was so impressed by a bra advert featuring Eva Herzigová that he contacted the advertising executive behind it Trevor Beattie, even though the company didn't have a budget for an advertising campaign at that time. It was Beattie who spotted the marketing potential of the acronym and a campaign was launched around it.
Its similarity to the word "fuck" caused widespread controversy. French Connection capitalised on the controversy it caused, producing t-shirts with messages such as "fcuk fashion", "hot as fcuk", "too busy to fcuk", "fcuk safely" etc. There were also a number of regionally specific messages, such as "fondle constantly until knackered" (in the UK), "fcukin hell" and "no fcukin worries" (in Australia).
The success of the branding in raising French Connection's profile led to similar tactics from other organisations. French Connection launched a trademark infringement case in the London High Court challenging the owner of "First Consultants UK Ltd", a computer company, over its use of the "fcuk" acronym. The case found that the Internet Domain fcuk.com was registered prior to French Connection applying for the UK Trademark and its claim for passing off was dismissed. Mr Justice Rattee refused to grant an injunction, describing French Connection's use of the acronym as "a tasteless and obnoxious campaign." The company also threatened legal action against the political youth organisation Conservative Future, which had briefly adopted the spoof abbreviation "cfuk" (short for "Conservative Future UK").
Following a number of complaints about advertising campaigns using the acronym, the UK's Advertising Standards Authority requested that the company submit all poster campaigns for approval before running them. In the United States, the American Family Association urged a boycott of fcuk products French Connection stopped using the acronym in advertising in 2005 and reduced its profile in its shops. However it is still used on certain menswear products and in-store branding. Despite this lowering of the profile, French Connection remains known as "fcuk", particularly by the UK press.
Current brand position
While the revival of the UK brand's fortunes in the 1990s has been attributed to the success of the FCUK logo, it has had mixed financial fortunes during the 2000s, reflected in its poor share prices in the UK. After reportedly losing market share to rivals such Zara, Topshop and ASOS – with some analysts suggesting its pricing was out of step with other competitor brands – its position improved in 2014. As of 2014, the French Connection brand had 131 stores in the UK and Europe.
French Connection distributes its branded womenswear and menswear through a network of owned stores, through franchised stores in major markets around the world, through concessions in department stores in the UK and also through other multi-brand retailers. French Connection also has a variety of licensed products,including eyeglasses, sunglasses, toiletries, shoes, jewellery and watches, which are sold through its own stores and specialist retailers, such as Boots and Specsavers.
Other brands in group
French Connection represents the majority of French Connection Group's revenue (some 88 per cent in 2014), however it owns a number of other clothing/homewear brands, including YMC, Great Plains and Toast. Toast now has eleven UK stores.
French Connection has produced a fragrances as an extension to the main clothing brand. This is a partial list
- Eau de Fcuk No. 1, No. 2, No. 3 – men's range introduced 2000 and women's fragrances in 2001.
- Fcuk Her and Fcuk Him (2003) – Original women's fragrance by Zirh/Shiseido and men's fragrance by James Krivda.
- Fcuk Connect Her and Fcuk Connect Him (2007) – Men's and women's ranges with base notes including musk.
- Fcuk Friction Her and Friction Him (2012) – Women's fragrance includes notes of coconut and vanilla, men's includes citrus.
- French Connection Investor Relations – Fashion is our business
- "French Connection Group PLC". Financial Times. 1 October 2014. Retrieved 1 October 2014.
- Simon Mills, 'The man from FCUK', MailOnline, undated. Retrieved 2013-02-06.
- Ehrlich, Dorleen; Raugust, Karen. "French Connection". fashionencyclopedia.com. Fashion Encyclopedia. Retrieved 1 October 2014.
- Wood, Zoe (15 March 2010). "French Connection sells Nicole Farhi as losses mount". The Guardian. Retrieved 1 October 2014.
- Armistead, Louise (20 October 2013). "zigzag pattern that is French Connection". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 1 October 2014.
- Finch, Julia (31 March 2001). "Oh so pretty blatant". The Guardian. Retrieved 1 October 2014.
- "French letters made safer by CAP". OUT-LAW, Pinsent Masons. 2004-07-13.
- Krieger, Candice (1 March 2012). "Mr 'French Connection' means business". Jewish Chronicle. Retrieved 1 October 2014.
- Time called on FCUK posters, BBC News, 2001-04-04. Retrieved on 2007-07-15
- Robert Verkaik (4 December 1999). "The case of FCUK v FCUK sent to High Court". The Independent.
- Judge's fury at four-letter ads, BBC News, 1999-12-03. Retrieved on 2007-07-15
- Young Tories threatened over logo, BBC News, 1999-09-15. Retrieved on 2007-07-15
- Companies target teens with "Scent to Bed" ad campaign, American Family Association. Retrieved on 2007-07-15
- Ruddick, Graham (18 September 2014). "French Connection regains swagger after decade in the doldrums". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 1 October 2014.
- "French Connection shares boosted by surge in sales". BBC. 14 April 2014. Retrieved 1 October 2014.
- "Licensed Products", French Connection, Retrieved on June 21, 2011.
- Geoghegan, Jill (1 October 2014). "Lifestyle brand Toast opened its fourth store in Chelsea this week". Drapers. Retrieved 1 October 2014.
- Basenotes.net French Connection Retrieved on 2012-10-09