By  on November 2, 2007

NEW YORK — Six months after an electrical fire ripped through the French Connection flagship here, the 5,000-square-foot store has been remodeled based on a new prototype.

The flagship at 435 West Broadway in SoHo, the company's highest-grossing U.S. store, is projected to do $10 million in sales in its first year, said Stephen Marks, chief executive officer. French Connection's worldwide volume is projected to be more than $600 million this year.

Customers have been responding to the new design by spending — sales are 20 percent higher than projected, Marks said.

"We're absolutely thrilled," he said, adding that the retailer has had a strong fall overall.

Although French Connection is wholesaled to about 1,500 department and specialty store doors, the company operates only 26 stores in this country, which leaves lots of opportunities, Marks said.

"In the U.S., we're on our way," he said. "We're doing extremely well [and that bodes well] for the future. We have plans to open more stores. To get up to 50 stores reasonably quickly wouldn't be out of the box."

Marks declined to discuss specific locations. "We've got quite a few things we're having discussions on," he said. "We're already doing quite well in California, so we'll certainly put more stores there. The stores will be strategically placed."

Management and other changes have encouraged the company to move forward. "We used to have a partner in the U.S. and we bought him out. Now we're in total control and we feel good about that."

The company will be introducing new product categories and beefing up others. "You'll see more accessories, more jewelry, a really intensive shoe range, watches and handbags," Marks said. "For the next year they will be mainly in our own stores."

The electrical fire was caused by a short in an apartment above the store. Marks said he was unable to estimate the revenue lost during the shutdown.

French Connection has already started rolling out the prototype in the U.K., but "this is the best version of the new rollout so far," Marks said. "Certain features when you start a new store concept work, and others don't work, and then you change them."French Connection targets 18 to 30-year-olds. Prices range from logo T-shirts at $28 to $328 for a wool-polyester-acrylic coat. Jeans are $128, a satin stretch top is $128 and a dress with an all over sequin pattern is $198.

The new design opens up the space by removing the walls behind windows to maximize natural lighting and allow passersby to see directly into the store. The store has a modern feel with backlit seasonal images displayed on walls, clean streamlined fixtures and mannequins with full hair and makeup treatment perched on white platforms. There is a rustic side to the store, as well, with exposed pipes, brick walls and open ceilings. Original wood from a whiskey barrel factory covers the floors, warming the space.

"The store feels very comfortable, very intimate," Marks said. "It's not a big white box."

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