What Happened to French Connection?

Once a shopping mall staple, French Connection has quietly closed a bunch of Canadian stores in recent years. Here’s Why.

Remember back in the day when French Connection FCUK shirts were literally everywhere?

The FCUK campaign featured tees and zip-ups that read “Cool as FCUK,” “FCUK Fashion,” “Hot as FSUK,” or simply “FCUK” – and everyone had one. The French Connection store was also a quick go-to for Canadians for everything from office attire to weekend wear, a reliable spot where you could find anything from a moderately priced cocktail dress to comfy sweatshirts.

Somewhere along the way, however, the brand – once a shopping mall staple – seems to have disappeared, having quietly closed a bunch of Canadian stores in recent years. The first store to go was the once-bustling Bloor Street location in 2013, followed by the Eaton Centre in 2014. Then came the disappearance of the Yorkdale Mall location and Queen Street. On the west coast, Vancouver’s only French Connection store closed its doors in 2016.

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The thing is, nobody seemed to care or even notice – at least not in Toronto.

Now, there are only two stores left in Canada. Globally, the brand closed nine underperforming stores in 2016 in an effort to boost profits.

Since 2012, the company has experienced substantial losses each year, something that’s led to a near 60 per cent drop in value of the FTSE-listed company since 2013 and created public friction with its investors.

The fall of the French Connection brand is likely a byproduct of the rise of fast fashion, with stores like H&M and Zara gaining popularity, especially in an era dominated by social media, where each new post pretty much requires a new outfit. People have also long moved away from the big, bold logos of the 90s, something the French Connection brand was famous for.

Earlier this year, however, the company saw losses narrow in the wake of the closures of underperforming stores in the fight to stay relevant. In the attempt to save the struggling brand, recent changes included the appointment of two new independent directors that came in response to pressures from frustrated investors. Previously, the brand’s chairman and chief executive, Stephen Marks – who founded French Connection in the 1970s – had been criticized for having too much control over the company. A particularly vocal investor is London-based hedge fund Gatemore Capital Management, who slammed the company earlier this year and called for structural changes.

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Since, a new flagship store opened its doors last month in Manchester – French Connection’s first new U.K. store since 2008. When the store was announced, the company said that the move reflected “our strategy to open new stores in appropriate locations where we believe the brand will trade profitably.” Other attempts to save the brand include cutting back on head office space and apparently making the clothing more affordable (though a scroll through their website reveals that pieces like dresses will still substantially dent the wallet). When it comes to its fate, though Marks remains vocally optimistic about the company’s recovery, only time will tell.

In the meantime, with only two Canadian locations left, a relatively unexciting product line and shipping fees on online orders, it doesn’t look like too many Canadian closets are going to house new French Connection gear moving forward.

Do you think French Connection will survive? Share with us in the comments!

Featured image: Instagram/ @frenchconnection_official

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