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Indie stockists praise French Connection

French Connection stockists have reported a positive start to autumn 13 trading, after the business narrowed its pre-tax losses in the first half.

Rebecca Luck, head buyer at young fashion retailer Ed in Dulwich, London, said autumn 13 had been “the best start to season [with French Connection] for a while”. She added:

“We’ve had a good reaction to the collection. It’s introduced a range of basics with a twist and we’ve had a really good reaction to outerwear.”

Paul Woods, owner of young fashion retailer Encore in Crosby, Liverpool, said: “What we’ve had in from French Connection has sold well so far. The brand is well respected by the customers but we buy quite selectively.”

French Connection, which this week reported pre-tax losses down from £6.3m to £6.1m in the six months to July 31, said the structure of its collections had changed for autumn 13 to ensure it has “the appropriate mix of price points and styling”. Stockists highlighted separates including jeans, trousers and blouses as strong pieces.

The brand said although wholesale revenue dropped 9.9% to £16.3m, there has been good take-up for autumn 13, with orders on a par with this time last year.

Orders for spring 14 are also slightly ahead of last year.

“For womenswear, it seems to have kept the prices down,” said Luck. “Knitwear is always quite strong and it has reacted a little bit more to our weather and there are some good strong prints. There are not too many embellished body-con dresses – everything seems a little more wearable.”

One menswear stockist told Drapers he had increased his buy for spring 14 but added: “As a brand it doesn’t know where it is going. It is trying to appeal to the lower, mid and upper markets and trying to appeal to too many people. It needs a fresh look and needs to rationalise.”

Revenue at French Connection fell 6.4% to £89.9m compared with the same period last year, which was due to a “softening” in its wholesale business and a reduction in its European retail performance.

Its European retail business, however, improved gross margin thanks to a reduction in overheads through four store closures and reduced staff costs. A further three stores are expected to close before the end of the year and the chain will continue to consider further closures.

Although like-for-likes were down 4.5%, French Connection said half of this drop related to its decision to move back the start of its summer Sale in an attempt to improve brand equity by having shorter Sale periods.

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