Venerable fashion brand Aquascutum is finally back in British hands, after Japanese owner Renown agreed to sell it to fashion entrepreneur Harold Tillman and Belinda Earl, the chief executive of fashion house Jaeger. The deal’s been a long time coming – Aquascutum has been struggling to tailor its offering to the Asian market, as Renown clearly hoped, and it’s been looking for a way out. Its new owners hope they can repeat the success they’ve had with Jaeger – but are the Russians and Americans going to like it as much as the Queen Mum did?
The deal will see two of Britain’s best-known fashion brands brought under one roof. Aquascutum – famous for its trench-coats – was bought by Renown almost 20 years ago for about £130m, but failed to earn its keep. The Japanese group finally decided to wash its hands of the business earlier this year following an internal review, which concluded (to nobody’s great surprise) that the brand was struggling, particularly in the Asian market. Aquascutum’s former CEO Kim Winser apparently spent a year trying to negotiate a management buyout, but walked out in May after failing to reach an agreement.
Despite Aquascutum’s recent travails, Tillman is upbeat about the prospects of his new fashion powerhouse; he reckons the combined worth of these two classic brands will be somewhere in the region of £300m. And although it has struggled in Asia, he and Earl apparently still intend to try and expand into other non-European markets where the brand is less well-known, including Russia and the United States. He also hinted that his turnaround strategy to get Aquascutum back on its feet would be similar to that which he employed at Jaeger, which involved taking the brand into areas like homeware and accessories.
But it remains to be seen if the company’s creations will be embraced on foreign shores as lovingly as they have been here. The Aquascutum brand has been around for a long time in the UK; it famously produced the first waterproof wool, which was used to make coats for British soldiers serving in the Crimean War. In subsequent years, the brand has been endorsed by everyone from the Queen Mother to Sophia Loren, Humphrey Bogart and Baroness Thatcher.
In fact, given its success with endorsements here, maybe it should consider a similar approach in Russia and the US? Give Maria Sharapova and George W. Bush a call, perhaps...
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