Brandbank uses French Connection as a handy springboard

Brandbank uses French Connection as a handy springboard

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Buried in the PR about renaming French Connection (popularly known as FCUK) Australia, distribution group Brandbank CEO Peter Halkett says, “Now is the time to discontinue the Australian distribution deal”. But he stresses, “French Connection may continue in Australia through another distribution network”.

Say what.

So they are taking a shell, previously known as French Connection Australia, giving it a new name, but the global business owners can and might reboot it with someone else.

Or, to put it another way. Brandbank is unsatisfied with decades-long name recognition, which included t-shirts emblazoned with FCUK that became controversy magnets. And have decided to lay waste to the legacy goodwill of a 50-year-old company, using it as a springboard for a new fashion thing.

Disingenuous feels like a fitting descriptor for what they’re doing. In their own words, this is not ‘re’ anything. It’s opting out of a long-standing distribution deal and using the stores and website, etcetera, for a new label so they can have more control.

More modern unisex clothes are also on the table of reasons for the bait and switch. Hence the new name Unison. Cute.

According to Halkett, the move is necessary because “Establishing a new brand in place of French Connection means we can be more responsive to the Australian customer … [and offer] a superior product range”.

Really? The only way to “be more responsive” is to shed the skin of the past. There are plenty of high-profile fashion turnarounds who disagree. Target pioneered partnering with well-known designers to revitalise its fashion lines. Gucci memorably bought in Tom Ford and leapfrogged from obscurity to zeitgeist frontrunner.

Any new name is a gamble. The trade of stepping out from under the French Connection’s global name and recognition is narrowed awareness and reach. And alongside those limits, I don’t think confusing the hell out of loyal customers is ever a good business move.

Asked for comment, Brandbank referred SmartCompany to a press release that states: “the brand’s continued commitment to delivering elevated core essentials and inspired fashion sets it apart, ensuring Unison becomes a name synonymous with modern Australian Style. Inspired by yesterday, made for today and designed for tomorrow.”

Awareness is hard won, especially in the crowded and fickle fashion sector, and its value shouldn’t be lightly discounted. Will people visiting the old French Connection store still walk in with a new name above the door? Or walk past? Brandbank is betting they’ll go in.

Customers’ relationship with a label also adds value that transcends physical clothing. The first stop when I’m looking for a new item. A piece of my public identity. A subtle sense of community and belonging.

Then there are the dollars involved. Coming up with the name. Designing and applying new identity artifacts such as the logo to stores and packaging. Advertising to create awareness. Revamping the website. The costs will likely tally millions.

Start a new label if you want to. Even change the name of what you’re doing now. Generally, people care much less about it than the egos of executives and agencies think.

What they do care about is products and services which perform as promised. Helpful service when buying something. Loyalty that isn’t taken for granted. And the confidence I can count on those things again next time.

Stephen Marks established French Connection in 1972. We’ll have to wait and see if Unison can survive a fraction as long. In the meantime, you can still buy an FCUK t-shirt on eBay.

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