FRENCH Connection is a retailer which has more gallic luck than its rivals. At the tail end of the 20th Century, it managed to arrest an alarming decline in sales by rebranding itself as FCUK, tapping into the youth counter culture and stealing a march on rivals like Gap. But in recent years it has struggled to hold its own, and many thought it would be a casualty of the downturn: its clever FCUK?moniker (since discontinued) couldn’t hide the fact that the likes of H&M and Zara were making more interesting clothes.
It has once again confounded the doubters, swinging from a £5.4m pre-tax loss last year to a £0.2m pre-tax profit. But this was mainly down to an admittedly impressive 240 basis points improvement in gross margin. A new licensing deal, which should add £1.5m to next year’s pre-tax profit, also provides cause for cheer. Sales continue to bump along the bottom, however, and French Connection’s bizarre positioning – part high-end brand, part mainstream High Street – is still confusing shoppers and shareholders alike.