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FCUK French Connection

Why French Connection’s revival of FCUK signals an identity crisis

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By Natalie Mortimer, N/A

February 1, 2016 | 4 min read

Cast your mind back to the 1990s and it’s likely you can recall swathes of teenage girls wearing t-shirts emblazoned with the phrase FCUK, French Connection’s wildly popular range which cemented the clothing retailer’s position in the zeitgeist of the period and put it on the fashion map.

Since then the brand steered away from its FCUK positioning and in recent years has faced tumbling sales amid a lack of appeal among its core audience of 20-35-year-old women and competition from the likes of Zara, Ted Baker et al. Last summer French Connection admitted it had had a “disappointing performance” in its first half and continued its store closure plans.

The company at the time revealed that its half-year pre-tax loss had doubled to £8m on revenues of £76m.

It’s not surprising then that the mid-premium retailer is reviving its FCUK t-shirt range in a new Spring/Summer collection that it will no doubt be hoping garners the same reception it did in the 1990s. However, doing so may create further problems for the brand attempt to re-connect with its target consumer.

“Looking back it wasn’t clever and I can’t imagine anyone choosing to re-engage, even ironically,” Erminia Blackden, strategy director, Partners Andrews Aldridge. “So, if we won’t buy it maybe our children will. Well, there may be a problem there too. French Connection is simply not on the shopping radar for the average teen –it’s just too expensive.

“The average 20 something working girl/boy, is looking for something with a little more elegance, than a logo t-shirt. You see, we’re all a bit more sophisticated and media savvy these days. And it takes more to shock than a pretend swear word. ‘Lame’ as my daughter would say”.

French Connection itself admits that its success depends on the brand’s ability to produce ranges of garments which are attractive to potential customers and given the current trend for 90s clothing the move is not entirely a bad one, but could be problematic as consumer sentiment shifts, argued Paul Thomas, senior consultant at Retail Remedy.

“Re-introducing the big slogan T Shirts of the 90’s feels like a last throw of the dice to re-connect with previous customers, but more importantly strike up a relationship with new younger customers.

“Given the recent revival, this could be good for FCUK. This could be great fun if managed correctly across the numerous social media opportunities. But when this trend moves on to the next, what then?”

Thomas believes to succeed there needs to be a re-think at French Connection about who the core customer is, how it differentiates itself from the competition, and undertake a review of the customer journey including online and mobile channels.

Another option could be to use the FCUK brand to “re-invent the idea of provocation” by positioning it away from the logo wear to design and styling, added Blackden.

“That dress that shows a little too much flesh, the flimsy blouse designed to be worn without a bra, the trousers that are cut slightly too tightly around the crotch – clothes for the teenage tease, the tantalising temptress, the juvenile gigolo. I certainly wouldn’t approve of my kids dressing like that – which means it just might work.”

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