British fashion house
Founded: in London by Stephen Marks, 1969. Company History: Introduced French Connection label, 1972; launched menswear collection, 1976; hired Nicole Farhi as designer, from 1978; introduced Nicole Farhi label, 1983; launched "fcuk" marketing campaign in Britain, 1997; debuted same campaign in U.S., 1999; expanded into lifestyle products through licensing, late 1990s and early 2000s; created first television/cinema advertising, 2000; acquired mail order company, Toast, 2000; opened San Francisco-based U.S. flagship, its 50th U.S. store, 2001; purchased all of its U.S. operations, 2001. Company Address: 60 Great Portland Street, London W1N 5AJ, England. Company Website: www.fcukinkybugger.com .
On FRENCH CONNECTION:
Bloomfield, Judy, "Nicole Farhi Strengthens U.S. Connection," in WWD, 28 September 1988.
Gordon, Maryellen, "French Connection's Broadway Debut," in WWD, 14 April 1993.
Fallon, James, "French Connection Clicks in U.S.," in WWD, 8January 1997.
——, "French Connection Profits Climb…," in DNR, 5 April 1999.
Cowen, Matthew, "TBWA Plans to Promote fcuk to a Wider Audience," in Campaign (UK), 1 September 2000.
Fallon, James, "French Connection to Buy Entire U.S. Business," in DNR, 21 February 2001.
Benady, David, "FCUK America," in Marketing Week, 22 March 2001.
Jardine, Alexandra, "Style Offensive," in Marketing (UK), 5 April 2001.
Young, Kristin, "French Connection United Kingdom Opening Flag-ship in San Francisco," in WWD, 16 July 2001.
French Connection was founded in 1969 by Stephen Marks with a range of tailored upmarket womenswear in traditional materials marketed under his own name. Marks recognized the need for a less expensive but carefully conceived womenswear collection for a broader market. Marks introduced the French Connection label in 1972 and four years later showed its first menswear collection.
The firm was one of the first British companies to address the market for well-designed, accessible men's casualwear, and soon expanded into both formal and informal clothes for men, women, and children. The childrenswear range, for children aged six to 16, began as a scaled-down version of the primary French Connection womenswear and menswear collections, using the same designs, fabrics, and sources of manufacture and including everything from t-shirts to tailored clothing. The lion's share of revenue, however, remained the menswear division which grew exponentially since its origination.
French Connection design studios were based at the company's headquarters at Bow, East London, and led by Nicole Farhi, who trained in Paris and worked for many major French and Italian companies before joining the firm in 1978. She was the designer in charge of the company's entire range, as well as having her own label. French Connection's design philosophy, in its own words, was to "always give its product that extra fashion content and value," for clothes "remarkable for their comfort and reliability, their continuing anticipation of fashion trends in fabrics, shape, lengths, and styles and their attention to detail."
Womenswear and menswear collections were produced in several annual collections, for summer and winter as well as mid-season ranges in between. These collections represented some 1,000 new designs each year, in a wide variety of fabrics, cuts, and styles from formal clothes to leisurewear. A summer collection for women, for example, might include the extremes of straps and Lycra in a salute to minimalism, while also featuring elegantly classic navy and white prints. A winter menswear collection "translates a look of understated distinction," while including "untraditional fabrics, colorful cables, and crunchy winter whites with primitive embroidery."
After nearly failing in the late 1980s, French Connection was once again one of the hottest and fastest growing brands in Britain during the late 1990s and early 2000s, thanks in large part to its controversial and suggestive marketing campaign, and subsequent rebranding under the "fcuk" logo. Thought the letters did represent the firm's initials (French Connection UK), it was controversial due to its use by porn purveyors on the Internet to get around censors.
Although the company creates apparel and accessories loved by young consumers, its growth was attributed to an aggressive marketing campaign, launched in 1997 using posters, print ads, and publicity to reach young consumers with slogans based on the new logo. The ads, as well as the company's website, attracted the notice of the UK's Advertising Standards Authority, resulting in some censorship, but more than enough publicity to make up for it. The campaign was so successful French Connection decided to rebrand itself under the "fcuk" name, creating packaging, hangtags, and store designs reflecting the logo and minimizing the French Connection name. As of 2001, the company had 60 stores in the England as well as 2,000 other outlets in the UK; its Oxford Street store in London boasted a banner with the words "the world's biggest fcuk."
French Connection has expanded through licensing into a wide variety of accessories and apparel as well as into other products such as home furnishings, footwear, health and beauty products, condoms, and alcoholic drinks. All are closely tied to the risqué corporate image, marketed under subbrands such as fcuk spirit, fcuk at home, fcuk spa, and fcuk vision. The goal is to become a lifestyle brand rather than simply a fashion retailer, as executives told In-Store Marketing in November 2000.
French Connection maintains its highest profile in the UK but has expanded across the world, especially into the U.S. market. It had been present in America for nearly 20 years, but its recognition factor was raised significantly when the "fcuk" advertising campaign came to the country in 1999. The advertising generated similar controversy in the U.S. as it did in the UK—albeit to a lesser extent—such as when New York cabbies refused to drive with the posters on their roofs and Mayor Rudolph Giuliani vocally protested the slogans.
French Connection launched a flagship store in San Francisco, patterned after its London flagship, in 2001, bringing the total number of stores to 50 in the U.S. and 150 around the world. After less-than-rosy results in its U.S. operations in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the firm purchased the remainder of its U.S. business (it had previously owned half) in February 2001, and prepared for a major expansion effort. In 2001, fcuk began its first nonprint advertising campaign, with its controversial positioning maintained, but in a slightly more subliminal way. According to Marketing (21 June 2001), the ads showed a couple kissing and whispering to each other with words beginning in "f, c, u" and "k." The woman's head then moves down the man's chest until it is invisible under the frame of the screen, and the man says, "FC you kinky bugger." The ad ends with a fcuk-logoed condom. The ad ran in cinemas in the UK because it was rejected for television; in the U.S., it ran on cable networks such as MTV.
The company's controversy-based strategy seemed to be working, as sales and earnings rose at a pace of 20 percent annually for several years, despite a lagging retail marketplace. The Nicole Farhi label also continues to be strong and the firm segued into mail order by purchasing a direct response company, Toast, which focused on home furnishings and women's apparel. Although marketing spurred French Connection's growth, its apparel and other products have kept customers coming back.
updated by KarenRaugust