An FCUKing Brilliant Idea French Connection was struggling in America--until its bad-boy adman found salvation in four not-so-naughty letters.
By Greg Lindsay

(Business 2.0) – French Connection's rise to international fame all started with a fax. In 1997 the London-based clothing retailer was on a hot streak in Britain but was struggling with a full-scale American invasion launched earlier that year. Its lack of a strong brand kept the youth-focused style from gaining traction against more established names like Gap.

Enter Trevor Beattie, a U.K. advertising bad boy known for his salacious Wonderbra campaign and for resigning as creative director of TBWA/London to express dissatisfaction with a pending merger. French Connection CEO Stephen Marks handpicked Beattie, who was asked to completely overhaul the company's branding within a matter of months. Beattie wanted an "antifashion" approach that would de-emphasize the retailer's sleek, simple clothes in favor of the too-cool attitude shared by its shoppers. But Beattie lacked a unifying icon, and the French Connection's straightforward logo wasn't going to cut it.

Then one day at the company's U.K. headquarters, Beattie spotted a fax from the Hong Kong office. "From FCHK," it read--shorthand for French Connection Hong Kong. "To FCUK."

Beattie had his icon. That spring, posters appeared in London with the tagline "fcuk fashion." Missing the cheeky transposition, citizens were outraged. Britain's Advertising Standards Authority even banned the tagline. So in the fall, French Connection responded with another one: "fcuk advertising."

Across the Atlantic the four-letter logo began saturating storefronts and T-shirts in 1998. As a result, sales started to soar and haven't slowed since. In 2003, North American revenue hit $84 million, more than double what it was in 1997. Chainwide profits have nearly quadrupled in the same period, to $37.3 million.

Beattie has returned to his post at TBWA with the additional title of chairman, but the controversy keeps coming. In recent years, Macy's and Marshall Field's have banned the logo from their stores. And ads for an FCUK fragrance with the tagline "Scent to bed" were pulled from teen magazines last year after parents organized an e-mail campaign. But French Connection's customers appreciate the logo for what it is: four innocent letters.

"They get it," says Jamie Rice, chief strategy officer at marketing firm Carton Donofrio Partners. "They can go on wearing the logo because it isn't the word." -- GREG LINDSAY