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," inWWD, 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.
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
Born: France, 25 July 1946. Education: Studied fashion illustration at Studio Bercot, Paris. Family: Longtime companion of Stephen Marks, daughter: Candice; married David Hare, 1993. Career: Freelance designer for Pierre D'Alby, Bianchini-Férier, Elle, Marie-Claire, 1966-circa 1973; designer, French Connection, from 1973; introduced own label to coincide with first Nicole Farhi boutique, 1983; opened freestanding shops, London and New York, 1984, Norway, 1987; menswear collection introduced, 1989; opened flagship new York City store, complete with restaurant and bar, 1999. Awards: British Fashion award, 1989; British Design Council award, 1991. Address: 16 Fouberts Place, London W1V 1HH, England.
Stegemeyer, Anne, Who's Who in Fashion, Third Edition, New York,1996.
Bloomfield, Judy, "Nicole Farhi Strengthens U.S. Connection," in WWD, 28 September 1988.
"Din Adds Spice to French Dressing," in Design Weekly (London), 14July 1989.
Martin, Rosie, "So Farhi, So Good," in Vogue (London), April 1991.
Honan, Corinna, "Why Do So Many British Women Dress Like Tarts? Top Designer Nicole Farhi Reveals Her Contempt for Modern Fashions," in the Daily Mail (London), 2 October 1992.
Fearon, Francesca, "Goodbye to the Changing Seasons," in the Herald (Glasgow), 11 November 1992.
Dempster, Nigel, "Farhi's New Hare-Style," in the Daily Mail (London), 9 February 1993.
Young, Lucie, "Design Notebook: Who's the Coolest of Them All?" in the New York Times, 19 August 1999.
Deegan, Carol, "Five Questions: Nicole Farhi," in the Associated Press, 4 February 2000.*
My clothes are for women like me who are active, either because they work or simply live life to the fullest. The designs are understated but with tremendous style…never boring…and even when it is a fun garment, I like to keep the shape very simple.
Nicole Farhi was born in France of Turkish parents and trained in Paris to be a fashion illustrator, working first for Parisian fashion magazines illustrating the haute couture collections in Paris. When she was 20, she made the transition to fashion design because she was asked to design dresses by such magazines as Marie-Claire and Elle, which were sold as patterns for their readers. She then met Stephen Marks and began designing for the company that soon became French Connection. "We went to India," she relates, "sourcing fabrics and designing textiles. This was 1973-74 and there was a demand for Eastern fabrics and embroidery." By 1983, when French Connection was floated on the London Stock Exchange, Farhi launched a company under her own name, backed by the now considerable resources of the larger label. In 1984, she wrote, "The clothes I was designing for French Connection were too constricting for me. They were very successful, but I wanted to design unstructured clothes for women."
Unstructured design is a distinctive feature of Farhi's work, as is the importance of understatement, attention to detail, and subtle colors and textures: "My collections over the years have become more and more feminine…altogether softer, using layers of color and texture. I think a woman should express her sexuality…not in a blatant way, but subtly—perhaps just by using fabric that is pleasing to the touch." In winter 1989, Farhi launched her first collection for men, a move welcomed as a new development in British menswear. As Farhi explained at the time, "Many of the fabrics and shapes I had used for women in the past had been quite simple and 'masculine,' so it was not too difficult to make the transition."
Both women's and men's collections express Farhi's Europe-based design philosophy. "Nowadays the way we live means less of a partition between day and evening clothes…. They need to be relaxed in the day yet sophisticated enough for the evening. We must mix them to suit ourselves. At last there is no dictation."
There are a total of eight London Nicole Farhi shops, including those in Covent Garden, Knightsbridge, Hampstead, and the original at St. Christopher's Place, as well as concessionary outlets in many major stores throughout the UK, Europe, Japan, and Hong Kong. In 1989, Farhi won the British Classics category at the British Fashion awards and in 1991 was awarded the British Design Council award for Design Excellence for her spring/summer 1991 collection, the first time in five years the award had been given to a fashion designer.
Business boomed for Farhi in the 1990s. In September 1999, she launched a 20,000-square-foot flagship store in New York City, showcasing her signature clothing plus antique furniture and flea market treasures from Europe, South America, and Madagascar. The 1901 building, once the Copa Cabana nightclub, is home not only to Farhi's menwear and womenswear, but home collection and to Nicole's Restaurant and Bar.
Farhi ended a long romantic relationship, which produced daughter Candice, with business partner Stephen Marks in the late 1980s, although the two have continued to work together. In February 1993, Farhi married playwright David Hare, who wrote the film Damage and has directed at Britain's National Theatre.
Even as she reigned as one of Britain's most successful designers, collecting an estimated £50 million ($80 million) in 1998 and dressing movie stars such as Judi Dench, Jeremy Northam, and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Farhi has remained low key, driving a 25-year-old Volkswagen Beetle and attending high-brow events wearing jeans. Her attitude toward the fashion industry is similarly practical: "I want to stop this nonsense of people saying there is a 'revolution' in hemlines or whatever," she told Corinna Honan of London's Daily Mail. "My advice is—ignore what the fashion magazines are saying. I wear jackets and sweaters that are 10 years old; I'm not worried about what people think. There are pieces in my collection that have been the same for five years."
updated by LisaGroshong