The rebirth of French Connection

Patrick Burgoyne looks at the retailer’s attempts to distance
itself from its laddish past with a new ad campaign

While French Connection’s FCUK campaign of the late 90s cemented Trevor Beattie’s reputation and shifted a lot of gear, wise old heads wondered what the long-term impact on the brand might be. The shock tactics and naughty wordplay burned bright, but once the joke wore thin, so did customers’ appetite for the retailer. Of course other factors come into play in the success or otherwise of a high street chain but French Connection has endured a period of some decline since.

Though the humour remains, Fallon’s new campaign feels like an attempt to scrub away the lingering whiff of Bacardi Breezer about the brand and distance it from its punning past. It leads off with two films – The Man and The Woman. A French-accented voiceover introduces both characters – he, Hoxton hirsute and brooding (apparently, rugby player Sebastian Chabal was a reference), she, gamine (think Jean Shrimpton) and a bit distracted. The overall feel has overtones of Jørgen Leth’s 1967 short film The Perfect Human (“Here is the human, here is the human, here is the perfect human.” It’s on YouTube) with a dash of French New Wave. For The Man the humour is dialled up with some lovely lines such as “He knows not what sequins is” from creative team Selena MacKenzie and Toby Moore. Men can’t be expected to take fashion seriously, you see, at least that’s what ad agencies think. The films and the press and in-store work were all shot by Blinkk (a growing trend that we will return to in a later issue of CR).

There’s an intriguing comparison here with Diesel. Anomaly is supposed to be the cool new model agency and recently took Sony off Fallon for precisely that reason, yet its Be Stupid campaign for Diesel is curiously old-fashioned in approach (see last issue). In contrast, Fallon’s French Connection work, aimed at very much the same target, feels far more contem­porary and sophisti­cated.

It won’t be to everyone’s taste but I like the tone of voice and the off-beat feel of it all. There’s something reminiscent of Tomato’s work about its combination of arthouse reference punctured by silliness – no surprise given that Dirk van Dooren now works with Fallon and drove the initial concept along with ECD Richard Flintham. Will it sell more clothes? Who knows. Will it do for the brand what FCUK did? No, but then that’s surely the point.

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