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I have just posted this topic an have now been forced to edit it because the Forum machinery has chosen to take out a certain very famous branding logo and replace it with four asterisks. In order for you to see in advance what the offending "word" is, I shall have to illustrate it by means of a photograph. Then, when you read the article, you can substitute the photographed word for the irritating asterisk-word in quotes. The picture below shows the logo in its earlier lower-case form but it is more commonly found in upper-case capitals. Sorry about this problem, but you see how near the knuckle French Connection were with this campaign - more about that later in the topic.

**** logo in lower case (picture from modprints.com): fcuk_logo.gif

Quite recently, I rejected the utterly dreadful Avon "Jamie Blue" watch when the Avon Lady showed it to me. Even she was quite appalled at its shameless tackiness, and I hate to think what Jamie Redknapp, the footballer in whose name the watch was produced, would say if he actually saw one in the flesh. Anyway, on my advice to ignore that watch, our friends a few doors down, who use the same Avon rep, decided to go for a French Connection watch advertised in the latest Avon catalogue, and knowing that I am a watch collector, Vanessa asked me check to see if French Connection was a decent company.

At the time, I didn't know much about French Connection, and I still haven't got a French Connection watch, but I did know that my jewellery retailing friends of old, the Chatfields, had recently started selling rather stylish French Connection watches in their new Eastbourne showroom, and I also know that Mr. Chatfield is quite pleased with them and that he wouldn't sell anything shoddy. I therefore decided to look more deeply into French Connection and unravelled a fascinating company history, and also a very wide and interesting range of French Connection watches. Soon, the question arose as to whether I could actually fit this topic into a single article, rather than split it up, and I am going to try for the former which I think readers prefer. So here goes.

As it stands now, French Connection is a UK-based global retailer and wholesaler of fashion clothing and accessories for men and women, as well as homeware. Its HQ is in London and its parent company, French Connection Group plc, is listed on the London Stock Exchange. The company not only has stores of its own in the UK, the US and Canada, but also sells its products globally through franchise and wholesale arrangements. In 2011 it had 2,834 employees, and crucially, Stephen Marks was its Chairman and CEO, as he still is. According to the blurb in Watch Shop, the company now has 310 stores and operates in 25 countries.

I mentioned above how crucial is Stephen Marks to French Connection, and even this is an understatement.

This man has become almost a legend in his own lifetime and not because he has led different companies to greater heights or been some sort of financial guru. No, Stephen Marks is a legend because he has driven his own creation, French Connection, through thick and thin, from its foundation until the present time, using his wit and guts to overcome inevitable problems that besieged his own firm and the fashion market generally. It would not be fair, however, to ignore the enormous contribution of Nicole Farhi, who was in at the start of the company as a talented designer, and remained an important figure well after her personal relationship with Stephen marks had ended. The consequence of the importance of Marks means that we have to tell an intertwined story - of Stephen Marks and of his company, French Connection.

The Man and his vital cohort; Stephen Marks and Nicole Farhi in 2010 (photo from Daily mail):


Stephen marks was born in Harrow, Middlesex, the son of haidressers, and he went to the local secondary school. As a teenager, Marks was a promising tennis player and won a junior tennis prize at Wimbledon. However, his need to be financially independent led him away from the risks of pursuing tennis and he therefore joined a family friend in the clothes manufacturing business to learn the trade, and then worked as a clothing salesman for Andre Peters and Louis Feraud. Being ambitious and not wanting to settle for the sort of middling income of his parents, Stephen decided to launch his own company in the late 1960s, "Stephen Marks Ltd.", which specialised in making tailored suits and coats, which he designed himself. At this time, his business comprised merely himself, a pattern cutter and a female accountant. He was apparently not unknown in fashion circles even at this time, as he was dubbed the "hot pants king" after his recognition that short skirts and hot pants were about to be the in thing.

Having had some experience of trading on his own behalf, Stephen marks, with start up capital of £25,000 and a talented designer in Nicole Farhi, launched a new company, "French Connection" in 1972 (note that I have also found 1969 and 1971 as dates given for the company's beginning but 1972 is probably correct) to make and sell women's clothing. Marks' idea was to mine the relatively untapped resources of low-cost, high-quality manufacturing in Hong Kong and combine it with the clothing designs by Nicole Farhi to produce a new type of fashion company. As for the name, "French Connection", it has a bit to do with the film of the same name, and also with a genuine French connection that enabled Marks to obtain 3,000 cheesecloth shirts that he could sell in the UK for a considerable profit. In 1976, French Connection also started to produce menswear as well as clothes for women.

Nicole Farhi was a key part of the success of French Connection and in 1978 she was employed to head up the company's design centre in Bow, East London. She subsequently became Stephen Marks' partner and they had a child together, and became husband and wife. Even when their relationship came to an end in the 1980s, they carried on in business together and, in 1983, Marks assisted her in launching an eponymous higher-end label within the French Connection Group.

French Connection had gone from strength to strength from its foundation in 1972 until after its floatation on the stock exchange in 1983/84, when the shares were at 123p, and Stephen Marks was declared to be the 15th richest man in Britain with a £40 million fortune. Later, elements of that fortune were to be used on various projects such as the financing of a number of British films such as "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, the part funding of tennis academies in the UK and Israel, and, yes, as loans to French Connection when it got in to trouble.

Some time after the stock exchange floatation, things started to go awry for Stephen Marks and French Connection. By the late 1980,s the company was in trouble and in a subsequent interview in the Evening Standard, marks admitted that he had been naive and had "got too wrapped up with the City and merchant bankers". Ultimately, the situation was so bad that Marks had to resign as Chief Executive of French Connection and "go back to work." However, this was only a brief sojourn into the wilderness because he was soon back at the head of the firm, in 1991, just before the announcement of pre-tax losses of £5 million and a share price that had dropped to 16p. However, Marks was not prepared to lose his "baby" and over the next three years, he personally lent the company £3.5 million and worked on trying to find a solution to the flagging image of the company. Stephen Marks has been called a rather monosyllabic person, with one of his dictums being "If a person has to ask how long a working day is with us, they've come to the wrong place." However, his tendency to short taciturn speech may have helped in the arrival of one of fashions greatest marketing coups of all time.

In spite of a self-admission that Marks was "the old fart" in a young-thinking business where he was surrounded by youth, he was able, with the help of controversial advertising guru Trevor Beattie, to zone in on the perfect monosyllabic logo for the ailing and lacklustre company. Yes, the logo "****" was born! It was a piece of genius, and probably also had some link with the fact that faxes between the UK and Honk Kong Offices of the company did use that (and a similar) acronym, which apparently stood for "French Connection United Kingdom". It is perhaps sad that just as this logo was to be launched upon the world and take the youth market by storm, Stephen Marks sold his large share of the Hard Rock Cafe chain for £300 million. What could he have done with that chain now he had a real youth slogan with rebellious and anarchic overtones?

The **** logo began to be used on products in 1997 and it did its job admirably - at first being found usually in lower case form "****". It was, of course, inevitable that the resemblance of the logo to the Anglo Saxon word for the sexual act was bound to cause controversy, and this controversy only added to its appeal, especially among young consumers. The most popular and iconic use of the logo was on t-shirts in all sorts of variations such as "hot as ****" or "**** safely" and there were even regional variations for different markets. French Connection poster campaigns and advertising kept the logo in the public eye, and boosted the performance of the company. In an interview with Beverly d'Silva in the Independent in August 1998, it is clear that Stephen Marks and **** were riding high and planning a great future. At the time the firm had 46 stores in the UK and Marks was planning to open 10 new stores a year for the next ten years, in various parts of the world.

It is impossible and pointless to list here all the actions taken to try and eliminate the **** branding by various church and conservative organisations on "moral" grounds, and even some companies were angered though for different reasons, such as the "First Consultants UK Ltd.". In the USA, there was also considerable uproar and Bloomingdales refused to stock **** products. Ultimately, the UK Advertising Standards Authority stepped in, requesting that the company submit all poster campaigns before running them, and the company gradually began to realise that now that the **** campaign had done its job, it was time to tone it down. However, by the time that **** was almost abandoned by French Connection, it had become a popular term for the company, especially by the UK press.

French Connection finally stopped using **** in its advertising in 2005, but found it somehow impossible to drop the logo entirely. It is still used on some menswear products and in-store branding, and most of the French Connection fragrances are labelled as **** perfumes. In fact, even today, in 2014, the **** is still found on products, including a few watches, when French Connection now generally uses a much more sophisticated full length version of its name, and this seems sad and very outdated. Indeed, the slowness of Marks to react to the ending of the shock value afforded him by **** was partly responsible for future difficulties.

A multi-dial calendar gents watch unfortunately still bearing the **** logo even in today's marketplace:

(picture by the brilliantgiftshop.co.uk)


The name change to **** was not going to last for ever in its special appeal to customers and with the gradually phasing out of the acronym, French Connection was left with somewhat lacklustre campaigns that were just not inspiring enough and which failed to cater for the desire for "safer" products in a troubled economic climate. In addition, the company was now facing stiff competition from retailers such as Primark, Zara and Topshop, who were cutting the premium position of French Connection from under its very feet.

Once again, Stephen Marks was needed as the man with the necessary overview of the situation and the guts to take action. In 2010, Marks sold off the loss-making Nicole Farhi label he had created some years earlier for his then wife, and he also announced the closure of 17 of the company's 23 stores in the US as well as all 17 of his Japanese stores. These measures proved to be insufficient to meet the needs of recession-hit Britain and so on 1 May 2012, the company announced that it was closing 14 of its UK shops in places such as Bluewater, Brent Cross and Lakeside shopping centres, and then Marks undertook a new initiative with a French Connection Homeware Division.

On 13 March 2013, James Thompson of the Evening Standard published a short article on the current state of French Connection, and of course, Stephen Marks himself was mentioned - apparently he was blaming obstinate landlords and punitive rents for the financial problems that French Connection was still experiencing. Nevertheless, Marks was still looking to the future and seemed to have no intention of abandoning the company he founded way back in 1972. Indeed, French Connection is still a retail force to be reckoned with, and its watches, which are a relatively recent addition to the product range, reflect a determination to cover all bases and provide something good for everyone. And it is to the watches that we must now turn.

I have a feeling that French Connection first added their watches to the product range in 2008, and they have certainly now become ambassador products, revealing a level of sophistication that I would expect in pretty expensive watches with a good pedigree. What is so interesting is that one could literally use the phrase "From Avon to the Top" when it comes to French Connection watches. You can buy one for less than £20, and yet the more complex and sophisticated examples can top the £100 mark, and it is these more upmarket models that Chatfields tend to sell in Eastbourne.

Watch Shop seems to have the best description of the French Connection range, stating that the styles are a "combination of classic understatement and wacky playfulness, and fit a wide range of function and purpose in the life of the fashion conscious consumer." Of course, Watch Shop cannot avoid discussing the **** acronym found on some of the French Connection watches, calling the **** ads that identify the company as being "Bold, memorable, and somewhat shocking" but my own feeling is that this claim is way out of date and that even French Connection themselves would probably rather pursue the written logo "FRENCH CONNECTION" in a smart new text written on most of their watch dials.

As well as less interesting descriptions of the ranges for men and women, Watch Shop probably hits the mark when it states that "The company's hallmark is innovative design with affordable prices, making its pieces attainable by anyone who appreciates both indivuality and value. The **** watch collection contains creative designs for both men and women, with distinctive looks and exceptional quality. Each piece has a personality of its own; thus the collection appeals to a wide audience, beckoning to the individual who wants to stand out from the crowd in his or her own way." Yes I know, this is partly advertising hype, but Watch Shop do go out of their way to praise this brand heartily and I am also of their basic opinion. The women's range encompass all sorts of styles and strap types, and the men's watches are either contemporary or classic in style, with the use of multi-function dials and uncommon strap designs. It is notable that even the Watch Shop is not quite clear as to what name to use for French Connection, still hankering after the now rather defunct **** label.

Classic woman's French Connection watch with crystals and calfskin strap (picture from amazon.com):


Trying to find an accurate review of a French Connection watch has not been an easy task. In fact, it is almost impossible. There is even an extraordinary website where French Connection is compared directly to Watchuseek.com, the latter being a forum based company. As you might expect, there is absolutely no information on the French Connection watches, although there is quite a bit about Watchuseek. Interestingly, French Connection has its own "FRENCH CONNECTION FOR TIME" store on Amazon UK, and the company is clearly very happy to franchise its products or sell through online sites.

My own take on French Connection watches is that they produce a mixture of qualities, with the better watches being very good indeed. One thing I really like is that they produce quite a few very smart unisex watches, as well as the women's and men's examples, and that is a good reaction away from both overlarge men's watches, and impractical, overly small-cased women's watches. The decorative and the practical are both catered for, although I would say that there has been a shift towards the more practical, which in design terms, is perhaps no bad thing, as French Connection have been very adept at covering the basics of good design very well

French Connection watches have received pretty good reviews generally on Amazon, and with Mr. Chatfield also pleased with their quality, I would say that a French Connection watch would certainly make a nice addition to my collection. I must confess, however, that I would really like one of their more expensive men's models, and one with FRENCH CONNECTION written on the dial. At the age of 59 and having been through the whole period of the life of French Connection, **** no longer amuses me and I want something a bit more classic.

Finally, a true French Connection classic and a watch I would be proud to wear (picture from dive-watch-connection.com):


Edited by Always"watching"
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I just managed to edit my topic in time to make sure that readers clearly understood what the word was that the Forum machinery had decided to blot out with the use of four asterisks, but I couldn't quite finish the editing process before the Forum time limit on editing was up. I should have said that the offending four-letter word has been blotted out merely with the asterisks and not with the asterisks within quotation marks. Where the quotation marks do occur, these are of my own doing and not the Forum's. I do hope that this messing about with my topic has not impaired your reading enjoyment, and I also hope and pray that nobody reading the topic is actually offended by a logo that has been so well used that it has almost lost all of its original potency. I do hope that members have enjoyed reading my topic! :) :)

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Oh dear, PC Magician, I am sorry top hear your tale about the French Connection watch. I am not sure when you bought the watch or how much it cost when new. I did say that I feel the quality of French Connection watches is variable, but I can only say that many of their watches seem to have a very good rating on Amazon, etc.. French Connection is essentially a fashion brand but I realise that it is no excuse for producing shoddy goods, although it does mean that the bulk of the money spent on making and marketing the watch will not be on the movement inside. This is a regrettable truism that unfortunately holds for most fashion brands, with some exceptions, but if a company chooses to have watches as an integral part of its lineup, then it is my duty to write about that company and try and make some sense of the quality of its watches. And trying to really pin down the quality of a firm's watches is never an easy task, and one that is almost impossible in a fashion-led organisation. I can only say that I do my best, and try and judge such watches from a design perspective as well as an internal quality point of view. In a purely fashion-led watch, all one can really hope for is that the movement is a decent if inexpensive one, and that the watch proves reliable. In your case, the movement was evidently a dud, but I must say that I have had a good experience with inexpensive quartz movements that have proved remarkably reliable. Still, you have my sympathy. :)

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Oh don't get me wrong I am very happy with the 2 Watches I have.

All I am saying is don't spend too much on this brand as the movements tend to be cheap, its a bit like buying a Porsche and finding out it has a Toyota engine very good in its own way but not what you would expect for the money.

Cases straps and indeed the bracelets are pretty good, just ask yourself what is powering the Piece you are looking at and is it worth the asking price.

The ones I have seen tend to have Epson movements which I believe is owned by Seiko, but they are cheap.

However they run well enough, but I can't see that they will outlive a Miyota Or ETA movement.

Example if I saw one for sale at say £79 I would expect to pay around £45 and no more.

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Thanks for the info on your French Connection watches and I do agree with your comments about the movements in many fashion watches. This is a problem with most watch brands that are producing for a consumer market that is more concerned with the design and fashion style of the watches they choose rather than the ultimate quality and lasting-power of their watches.

Dear Mechanical Alarm, have no fear about the pics of the French Connection watch. I really like it and it wouldn't disgrace my own collection. I believe that there are variations on this design made by a number of other watch brands, and one thing that interests me about yours is that the French Connection logo or name does not actually appear on the watch dial itself.

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Thanks for the info on your French Connection watches and I do agree with your comments about the movements in many fashion watches. This is a problem with most watch brands that are producing for a consumer market that is more concerned with the design and fashion style of the watches they choose rather than the ultimate quality and lasting-power of their watches.

Dear Mechanical Alarm, have no fear about the pics of the French Connection watch. I really like it and it wouldn't disgrace my own collection. I believe that there are variations on this design made by a number of other watch brands, and one thing that interests me about yours is that the French Connection logo or name does not actually appear on the watch dial itself.

Dunno Man...

Like I said... it's probably RARE!! Couple more for your viewing pleasure..:



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Interesting write up, but from a watch collector's standpoint, the key question remains unanswered:

who makes the watches?

Very few fashion brands makes their own watches, the actual manufacturing is licensed to a "proper" watchmaker.

For example, Fossil makes (amongst many others) Armani, Burberry and Adidas watches. Similarly, swatch makes Calvin Klein watches.

The few brands that do produce in house generally acquire watchmakers to add this capacity (like Gucci and Mont Blanc did). **** has never acquired a watchmaking firm, and it provides no information about how they produce their watches. It seems to me that they have their watches made by a third party, the question is whom.

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I bought a Lip chronometer in a box of junk the other day. Cost me nowt, really, and it wasn't working, so I opened up the back and changed the battery - lo and behold! - the second hand started going round. But the chrono hands were all in the wrong place. The price of a brand-new Hattori VD54 movement in Cousins was a hefty £9.45 - far too much to spend on a battered old quartz chrono - so I found a Hattori VF54 spec sheet on the web, which showed how to reset the chrono hands. And they worked. It's a piece of tosh so it's going on eBay.

So there's the rub - a clever-looking chronometer run by a movement that costs just under a tenner retail, and probably costs pennies to make. No wonder all these fashion firms get to sell watches!

You gets what you pays for...

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Dear friend, thanks for the posts. I have to thank Mechanical Alarm for giving me a better view of the watch, and I see now that the **** logo is on the strap and the case back of the watch.I still really like that watch, whoever made it, and you don't think that French Connection is going to tell me who actually makes their watches!! I have to say, once again, that this is a watch and clock forum and if there is a clock or watch out there to be seen then it needs to be discussed, and in most cases, all we have to go on is the brand name on the front or back of the watch, and a few hints from inside the watch itself - i.e the movement and quality of the fitting, etc.

I realise that French Connection don't actually make their watches, and I suspect that they have a number of manufacturers beavering away in China or wherever making their watches, which probab ly expains the variation in quality among the cheaper brands. But I'm afraid I am a broad church man with liberal leanings - a bit like my Dad who was a C of E vicar. We need to appreciate the full gamut of watches, otherwise we merely freeze out those who enjoy collecting watches for fashion and stylistic reasons, and don't mind if their watch is powered by a cheap movement, as long as it gives decent reliability.

For me, there is no problem because I am just as interested in populist cheap watches as I am the very high-end pieces that one rarely actually sees or handles. Thus, I find myself at ease writing about companies such as Oasis or French Connection just as I do about high-end companies like Schofield Watch Company - and if you want a taste of pretension, then I would look more towards the latter's image than I would towards a company like Ben Sherman or even French Connection.

If you don't want members like myself messing up the purity of the forum by discussing companies - some of then highly reputable - who produce (and note that I didn't say "make") reasonably priced watches, often to their own design, then I suppose I had better leave. As far as I am concerned, we are surely all in this together, from watches costing a fiver to watches costing over £5,000. The Forum is a watch forum and not a "movement" forum solely for mechanical buffs who understand the joys of prestige watches. We down here, who are on the cheaper side of the line, also enjoy our watches and even the movements within them.

Sorry if I have mad anyone angry but I really need to put this all into some form of perspective. :)

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