Byline: James Fallon

LONDON — French Connection PLC just keeps on connecting, and not only with customers in France and the U.K.
For the year ended Jan. 31, the British women’s and men’s wear firm reported a 21.6 percent increase in aftertax profits, to $18.2 million from $14.9 million in the prior year. Sales rose 24.1 percent, to $283.5 million from $228.4 million. (Dollar figures were converted from the British pound at current exchange.)
Stephen Marks, French Connection’s chairman and chief executive, said the potential for the brand remains enormous throughout the world. As reported, French Connection last month announced plans to acquire the 50 percent of its U.S. subsidiary it does not already own in order to accelerate its growth there.
“I was in America last week interviewing people for possible jobs and everyone was surprised we weren’t a $200 million to $300 million business there already,” Marks said in a telephone interview. “But we are happy to keep it steady and maintain our bottom line. We’ve been growing 20 percent year on year for quite some time now.”
French Connection, which also owns the designer brand Nicole Farhi, last year had a 27.4 percent increase in pre-tax profits in North America, to $6.9 million from $5.5 million on a 24.8 percent rise in sales, to $78.6 million from $62.9 million.
In the U.K., the group’s largest market, pretax profits rose 14.9 percent, to $19.6 million from $17.1 million on a 23.4 percent increase in sales, to $189.5 million from $153.5 million.
The performance outpaces most of French Connection’s competitors, which are struggling with changing consumer shopping habits and a soft retail environment in Britain and elsewhere.
The group continues to expand its French Connection retail operations, with the opening last fall of a 14,000-square-foot flagship store on Oxford Street here. The store will serve as the model for future French Connection units, including the company’s first store in Tokyo, which opened earlier this month, and its expanded store in Boston, which will open in April. Other openings in the U.S. include a 6,000-square-foot store in San Francisco in the second half and potentially a 4,000-square-foot store in Miami. Other sites are under consideration, Marks said.
The company also made its first acquisition last year with the purchase of the small women’s wear and home furnishings mail-order company Toast. French Connection has combined all order fulfillment and customer service operations for Toast with its own operations, which Marks said should help the brand to develop. Toast also will open its first shop-in-store in Selfridges here this fall.