'Tacky' logo takes its toll on French Connection

Troubled retailer French Connection is nursing its wounds on the back of announcing a 70 per cent slide in interim profits that City analysts and marketers are blaming on the company’s controversial FCUK logo.

Founder of the high street clothing store, Stephen Marks, has historically been one of the most vocal supporters of the FCUK moniker that was created by Trevor Beattie, the designer of Gossard’s famous ‘Hello boys’ Wonderbra ad.

But this week, Mr Marks said his company’s once edgy and formerly praised logo emblazoned on garments to bags to cigarette lighters was being toned down.

“Fashion has changed and we’ve moved on,” the 60-year-old chairman told The Times.

He reportedly conceded that his buyers had been “overcautious” on key fashions, and that an extended sale of three weeks to shift summer stock revealed “missed opportunities.”

Compounding the gloomy situation, French Connection’s dominant source of business, namely its wholesale division, has suffered a 15 per cent slump year-on-year, in orders for winter 2005 and summer 2006.

As a result, half-yearly profits at the company came in at £5.1m dropping from a massive £16.2m, marking an overall decline for a retailer that netted £40 million just two years ago.

The City says trouble for FCUK (the company’s initials that form the provocative slogan) started after fashion bible Drapers Record branded the slogan “tired and tacky.”

Despite celebrity endorsements from the likes of Lennox Lewis, the Record said the slogan had had its day and was rapidly falling from grace and dragging the company’ s image with it.

Investors reacted accordingly, and the share price fell just over eight per cent – enough to knock around £35m from the retailer, and leave a stain on the fashion’s darling well-kept image.

The stockist that French Connection fans deem responsible was quoted in the Record as saying the brand had struggled to sell all summer; adding “everyone is fed up of seeing ‘FCUK this’ and ‘FCUK that’ in their shop windows.”

Press reports suggest the aggressive marketing of ‘FCUK’ was dropped prior to the launch of the 2004 summer range, and shoppers will note how gradually its garments have been devoting less cotton inches to the slogan, which was initially banned from two American stores.

Now however, the company is rejecting claims it wants to sell, with voices from the helm claiming this season’s range is a trendier product, and apparently one that relies less on the innuendo of four large capital letters.

“Cut-off trousers in denim and tweed, shruggy-type cardigans and glittery sweaters are all selling well,” said Mr Marks, speaking to the Independent.

One fashion journalist from the Drapers Record seemed to agree, telling the newspaper: “the product has really improved. They have moved away from the FCUK-branded obsession.”

Yet as small high street traders and their larger counterparts realise, the high street for most remains a quite place, unless you happen to be TK Maxx, Primark, or Zara.

Retail experts point to these companies as real opponents to French Connection, despite the latter’s willingness to dismiss them.

Zara owned by Inditex reported like-for-like sales increased 9 per cent for 2004, TJX (parent company of TK Maxx) is currently enjoying an 8 per cent yearly increase on revenue for August, and PriMark reported a 12 per cent jump in like-for-like sales on Monday.

Moreover, Zara opened 322 new stores during 2004 and vows to trump its record of new outlets by introducing up to another 360 worldwide by the year-end.

Reflecting on this new breed of retailer, selling trendy or designer clothes often with heavy branding yet at discounted prices, Mr Marks said he was unconcerned.

“Our core fashion customer does not go to Primark,” he said, adding that the UK/Irish outfit does not offer a “stylish product.”

Dressing up at knocked down prices is not related to French Connection’s business, Mr Marks insisted.

“There is a shopping experience, and then there is going to a supermarket,” he said.


15th September 2005

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