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Take Nicole Farhi back to basics, stockists urge

Stockists of Nicole Farhi and diff usion brand Farhi have called for the designer label to return to its roots after the business was sold this week to US private equity group OpenGate Capital.

OpenGate bought the lossmaking label from retail group French Connection on Monday for about £5m. Nicole Farhi, which was founded by French Connection chairman Stephen Marks and his former partner Nicole Farhi in 1982, is understood to have been running at a loss for several years. It made a loss of £5.6m last year.

Stockists contacted by Drapers said OpenGate should take product more high-end, and rein in distribution to return Nicole Farhi and its lower-priced diff usion line Farhi by Nicole Farhi to profi tability.

Ciara Whitehead, manager of premium womenswear indie Poshu in Manchester, which stocks both labels, said: “The mainline had lost its designer edge and become too mass market in the past few seasons.

I hope the new owners will rein in the distribution to keep it exclusive.”

Preeta Cooley, owner of premium womenswear indie Curve in Wendover, Buckinghamshire, which stocks the diffusion Farhi collection, said the product had become too young. “Farhi’s core customer is still an older, aspirational ‘forever 40’ woman who buys into it because she can’t aff ord the mainline,” she said.

Melanie Cipston, co-owner of premium indie Ibson Menswear in Stamford, Lincolnshire, said: “The new owners need to go back to basics and focus on what Nicole Farhi is best at, which is chunky knitwear and suiting.”

Following the sale, OpenGate founder and chief executive Andrew Nikou will become chairman of Nicole Farhi. Nicole Farhi herself will stay on as creative director and Nicole Farhi managing director Niki Scordi will be promoted to chief executive.

OpenGate said it planned to return the brand to profi tability “as early as the first year of ownership” by growing web sales and pursuing new licensing opportunities.

Meanwhile, French Connection is set to close its eponymous US stores.

In the year to January 31, French Connection’s operating profit excluding its US stores and Nicole Farhi was £1.3m compared with a loss of £700,000 the previous year.

Like-for-like sales at the French Connection UK and European retail business were up 2.8% over the year.

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