Fashion chain French Connection on Tuesday announced a 20 per cent climb in first half pre-tax profits to £10.3 million from £8.6m in the year-ago period as it benefited from strong UK sales.

The company said sales rose two per cent to £108.9m from £106.5m, while UK and European same-store sales climbed 5.5 per cent and wholesale turnover to third parties grew 4.4 per cent to £44.3m.

The company, famous for its controversial "FCUK" fashion brand and adverts, also revealed a strong start to the fiscal second half with same-store sales in UK and Europe up seven per cent in the first six weeks with those in the US up 11 per cent.

However, its first half results came amid a weak performance from its North American operations where sales plunged almost nine per cent and the results of its flagship Nicole Farhi store in New York City disappointed.

Chairman Stephen Marks said: "The business has developed a robust formula that has enabled us to perform extremely well in a highly competitive environment.

"We have had a great start to the second half and I am confident this will continue for the rest of the year."

French Connection said it plans to open four new stores in the UK during the second half. It added: "The Summer 2003 forward order books in the UK are almost complete and they will be ahead of last year.

"In the US the order books are still being compiled, but initial indications are that there will be an improvement in men's wear."