French Connection narrows losses as Sarah Curran joins the board

French Connection
French Connection AW17

French Connection has narrowed its losses and has announced two new non-executive board members including former Very Exclusive managing director Sarah Curran.

In the six months to 31 July the high street retailer posted an operating loss of £5.7m compared to £7.9m in the same period in the prior year but revenues slipped by 1.6% to £68.1m.

Wholesale revenues were up by 7.2% while its licensing arm returned to growth (up 8.3%) driven by a new fragrance agreement. In retail, operating losses were reduced by 18.3%, while UK and Europe like-for-like sales were broadly flat at an improved margin due to a lower level of promotional activity.

The business said sell-through of Spring 17 stock had been up year on year as a result of improvements to its product range and e-commerce now accounts for 29.2% of retail revenue (2016: 26.5%) with mobile now constituting 45.4% of online traffic.

Chairman and chief executive Stephen Marks said: “We have definitely seen momentum build in the first half of the new financial year with improvements across all the divisions despite difficult trading conditions.”

“With full price sales in retail up during the early part of the second half, combined with the strong Winter 17 order books in wholesale and very strong reaction to the Spring 18 collection, I am confident that we will see a good performance during the rest of the year,” he added.

Sarah Curran
Sarah Curran

Curran, who left Shop Direct-owned Very Exclusive in July, will join the board as non-executive director along with Robin Piggott who was most recently finance director of Moss Bros. Curran made her name in fashion by founding My-wardrobe.com, the accessible luxury fashion retailer, which she left in in 2013 and which ceased trading in 2014. She had Piggott replace long-standing non-executive directors Claire Kent and Dean Murray.

In July Mike Ashley’s Sports Direct increased its stake in French Connection to more than 27% after it picked up shares offloaded by activist shareholders Gatemore Capital Management and OTK Holding. Gatemore had fronted a campaign to force change at French Connection, including a shake-up of its non-executive board, the splitting of Marks’ chairman and CEO role and a faster restructuring of its retail arm, but it eventually sold its shares saying it had “decided not to ride out the investment during this period of uncertainty in the UK retail market.”