French Connection grew out of the founder, Stephen Marks's own label, begun in 1969. The movie French Connection was released in 1971, and when Marks teamed up with a Paris-based designer the following year, he borrowed the name. It was an inspired choice, giving the chain a cosmopolitan stamp. "The whole idea was to bring designer fashion to the high street," says Marks, in between this week's shop openings in Watford, Amsterdam, Miami and Pasadena.
FC's strength has always been its ability to produce design-led fashion at affordable prices. One of the strongest pieces for this season, a green Indian embroidered and sequined dress, takes the label full circle back to the early days when ethnic fabrics were its trademark.
French Connection launched its range for men in 1976, and in 1986 followed it with childrenswear.
By definition, fashion changes constantly. The secret of survival is to keep one step ahead of the pack. On the whole, French Connection has achieved this. It has even managed to develop its own controversial advertising campaign, with ad man of the moment Trevor Beattie. Just four letters, FCUK, have worked miracles for the company's street cred. A simple white T-shirt bearing the logo FCUK has become a clubber's must-haveand created a new generation of customer for the company.
"I wanted the advertising to stand out," says Marks. And the stark white adverts, some without a product in sight, do just that, and with a sense of humour. "All we're making is a few frocks," he says.
FC has managed to evolve with the Nineties from something that, in the Eighties, was in danger of becoming tired and dated, into something minimal and modern; and that's just the shop fittings. The clothes achieve a clever balance, reflecting catwalk trends, without alienating the customer. French Connection fans know they can find comfort and utility as well as something a bit out of the ordinary. The company offers a range of clothes that is, says Marks, "a little more forward".
One of the main differences between designer fashion and the high street version is the willingness of the retailer to compromise. The catwalk may dictate power shoulders, but if the consumer thinks they look ridiculous, she won't buy them. "The public are the best judges," says Marks. "And when they're buying in the quantities they are, then we're giving them what they want."
For men who can shop for themselves there are leather and suede jackets and knitwear that ranges from rugged and chunky to fine-gauge and V-necked. There are also shoes, and scarves that look hand-knitted.
For work, French Connection offers the best classic single-breasted suit for pounds 220. That's a saving of pounds 33 with one of The Independent's exclusive discount tokens. How can you afford not to go shopping? FC? OK.
Main photograph: Green sheer sequin shift with underslip, pounds 100; scarf, pounds 30; cardigan pounds 60
Far left: Man's camel suede shirt, pounds 225; boucle scarf, pounds 15
Left: Tie-front grey coat with fake fur collar, pounds 200, grey sparkle v- neck t-shirt, pounds 30
Above, from top: Man's navy fleece zip-up top, pounds 70. Man's brown single-breasted suit: jacket, pounds 140, trousers, pounds 80; orange V-neck jumper with shoulder stripe, pounds 50; black loafers with twist detail, pounds 90.
Beige V-neck T-shirt, pounds 20; beige suede trousers, pounds 160; camel ponyskin desert boots, pounds 86.
Grey single-breasted suit: jacket, pounds 160; trousers, pounds 70; scarf pounds 30.
All from French Connection branches nationwide. Inquiries: 0171-399 7200
Stylist: Charlie Harrington
Make-up: Alex Babsky
Models: Nathalie and Freddy at Select
Photographer's assistant: Ben HarriesReuse content