Style contrast: N Brown connects, rival doesn’t

 

The contrasting fortunes of High Street retailing and online was laid bare today, as French Connection and N Brown waved goodbye to Christmas in very different moods.

Internet and catalogue specialist N Brown continued to power ahead but French Connection said it expects to make a painful full-year loss of up to £8 million. This forecast, along with weak festive sales, sent the fashion chain’s shares tumbling 2.7p, or 9%, to 26.8p.

French Connection, whose chief executive and chairman is Stephen Marks, said trading at its stores in UK and Europe had “softened a little in the run up to Christmas”. The company, which was founded by Marks in 1969, delayed the start of its clearance sale by a week, as it sought to “build brand equity” and protect margins from fierce pre-Christmas discounting on the High Street.

There were no such problems for N Brown, which is best-known for its Jacamo clothes for men and Simply Be for women. Online sales rocketed by 17% over the 19 weeks to January 12 to account for more than half of revenues at N Brown, which also sells through its catalogue business and 27 High & Mighty and Simply Be stores.

Its outgoing chief executive Alan White hailed the boost which Andrew “Freddie” Flintoff , the former England cricketer who is now trying his luck at boxing, had given Jacamo’s sales. Flintoff has been its “brand ambassador” since 2011. Total sales at N Brown rose by 8.5%. Its shares fell by 8.5p, or 2.3%, to 362.9p but are up sharply since October.

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