On the surface the latest results from French Connection appear to tell ‘the same old story’ with sales down sharply on both a total and like-for-like basis.

On the surface the latest results from French Connection appear to tell ‘the same old story’ with sales down sharply on both a total and like-for-like basis.

This, of course, comes off the back of a long period of decline and against very soft comparatives from last year. However, behind the headline numbers there has been some progress, albeit of the limited variety, and there is a sense that the new team is starting to put the house of the once ubiquitous fashion brand in order.

For a number of years French Connection has been addicted to the discounting drug which has been necessary in order for it to shift stock. However, over the latest trading period the new management team shortened the seasonal sale period and managed to achieve a greater sell through of stock at full margin. This, allied with a tight control on operating costs and the closure of a small number of unprofitable locations, has allowed French Connection to reduce operating losses in the UK/Europe from £7.7m last year to £6.6m.

While these results are, therefore, a step in the right direction, French Connection will have to work far harder if it is to swing back into profitability. As important as operational reconfiguration and reducing levels of discounting are, the key to future success lies with product. Here, while there has been some progress, French Connection still does not quite hit the mark in terms of both delivering the latest trends and putting its own unique angle on them. There is a strong sense that the brand remains lost in the fashion wilderness.

The A/W13 collection is certainly stronger than last year’s effort, however, while there are some compelling eclectic and quirky outfits in the style of Marni’s Consuelo Castiglioni and some which tick the tom-boy glam box, others are less authentic and lack appeal.

Our sense is that French Connection will need to work much harder on its future collections if it is to regain the interest, and the spending, of consumers who are very well served by a whole proliferation of high street fashion labels.