Byline: Samantha Conti

LONDON — French Connection PLC flourished last year, despite a depressed U.S. market.
The British men’s and women’s wear producer and retailer said Tuesday that net income rose 19 percent to $21 million from $17.6 million in the fiscal year ending January 31, 2002. Fueled by brand extensions, a string of store openings, new licenses and increasing customer awareness, sales rose 17 percent to $320.5 million from $275 million.
The most vigorous markets last year were the U.K. and Europe. Dollar figures were converted from the British pound at current exchange.
Business in the U.S. — where French Connection now wholly controls its subsidiary — was dented by the aftermath of Sept. 11. In North America, comparable-store sales declined 11.7 percent as the company’s four Manhattan stores showed declines of over 30 percent.
The company said that since Christmas there has been a slow and steady improvement, but that a return to previous levels would depend on the recovery of the broader economy and the return of tourists, especially to New York.
The company, which owns the Nicole Farhi brand, said the designer’s New York store was “particularly affected” by the soft trading conditions there. “We are currently making some layout and operational changes to the store to insure that we benefit from any improvement in the trading environment and the strong current collections,” the statement said.
Stephen Marks, chairman and chief executive of the company, said he was confident that the U.S. market would rebound. “We’re seeing the very beginning of it already in our own stores,” he said in a telephone interview. French Connection has 29 stores and eight concessions in North America.
Marks added that French Connection was moving ahead with plans to open a unit in Miami later this month, and that the company would take advantage of new retail opportunities in the softer U.S. market. “Everyone right now is ready to talk,” said Marks.
Group operating profit before goodwill rose 30 percent to $35.5 million from $27.4 million, while profit before tax and goodwill rose 21 percent to $33 million from $27 million. Earnings per share, adjusted for amortization of goodwill and disposal of fixed assets, rose 52 percent to $1.18 from $0.78.
Marks said French Connection was already showing strong signs of growth in the current year: “Like-for-like sales in the U.K. retail business were up 5 percent in the first four weeks of the year and a strong order book in the wholesale business.”

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