What do menswear buyers want from the new Aquascutum? The brand’s team were given the answers at a Drapers dinner.
After years of decline, luxury brand Aquascutum has finally begun to rebuild its reputation. Over dinner at Berkeley Square dining club Morton’s in London on May 21, Drapers brought together 14 menswear buyers with the brand’s management team to discuss its future direction.
Owned since 2012 by Chinese conglomerate YGM Trading, which also owns J Lindeberg and Guy Laroche, Aquascutum will open a menswear-only flagship on Jermyn Street in London’s West End this month. This will complement the unisex shop opened at the end of 2013 on Great Marlborough Street, opposite the Liberty store. Wholesaling will be a central part of the 163-year-old business’s strategy, however, so chief operating officer Mark Taylor and his team were keen to hear what buyers thought of its offer.
Head of menswear design Thomas Harvey said while it has been a difficult few years for Aquascutum, he wanted “to show what we have done over the last year and what we are hoping will be the future of the brand - so there is a mix of outerwear through to tailoring, through to a lovely new range of men’s accessories that we will expand as we move forward”.
Nick Keyte, head of buying for menswear, sport and travel at Aquascutum stockist John Lewis, said the brand definitely has a place in the market: “As long as it has a [unique selling point], we have a part to play in supporting that. I would like to see this team pull it off.”
One of the first issues to be raised was where the brand wants to position itself. Emily Cowburn, junior buyer on men’s formal brands at House of Fraser, said Aquascutum has been performing “phenomenally” over the past several seasons, but added: “I need to know what the direction is and where to place it. Am I going to put it next to Paul Smith?”
Harvey said the main formal part of the range will compete against the likes of Paul Smith and Hugo Boss, as will parts of the casual line.
Mark Bage, head of fashion buying at Grazia International and former owner of premium fashion independent Coggles, was one of the attendees who thought the brand needed to open itself up to a younger consumer: “It just needs bringing back to its heritage and to throw in a bit of fun and really modern, youth influences.”
Adam Kelly, fashion and beauty director at Fenwick of Bond Street, agreed: “[Aquascutum is] good across all categories. But it needs to tap into a younger element as well to get the trend going for it again.”
Harvey responded: “We are working hard with casualwear to give younger consumers a way to buy into the brand, and that will come through in spring 15. We need our own identity within the British market - the key for us is to find that. We feel we are getting there.”
John Deane-Bowers, founder of Suffolk menswear independent Trotter & Deane, said talk about developing younger markets concerned him: “I think it is all about attitude, I don’t think it is about age. If you want to position [Aquascutum] as a truly luxury British brand, you won’t sell much in the UK. And if you use the word ‘luxury’ you will alienate certain retailers. It is all about having the right product at the right price.”
Taylor replied: “We have no intention of changing the profile of the brand, we are just modernising and expanding our offer so that different generations have access to it.”
Kelly argued that “if the product becomes desirable, it is ageless”. He added: “Look at Gant. Or Stone Island - the brand is on fire again.”
One of the key themes to emerge was a unanimous call for the brand to remain true to its British heritage. “I think a lot of the problems stem from the change of ownership and lack of leadership in the last few years,” said Eddie Prendergast, owner of Shoreditch menswear independent Present and a founder of The Duffer of St George.
“That is the directional bit that hasn’t happened. That is why we are sitting here, asking who and what you are. You have hidden the signature check, roll that one out. You are the same level as Burberry, the same heritage - you could do that.”
David Moss, director of central London menswear independent Richard Gelding, agreed: “Burberry is the blueprint because it was a dead-end British brand dominated by licences around the world, and it was zero in the UK, and now it’s successful.”
Giulio Cinque, owner of luxury Cambridge independent Giulio, said the key question was around positioning and resourcing: “Does it have the resources to become a Burberry? [Aquascutum] is a sleeping giant - you’ve got so much heritage but you are not using that.”
Harvey said Aquascutum was able to learn from what Burberry has done, as well as its own history: “We are very proud of using quality materials and factories, and our price points will start to represent that. But we also think customers get a lot of value for money for what they get from us.”
The attendees agreed Aquascutum’s pricing - raincoat prices, for example, start from around £550 for a classic Broadgate men’s raincoat, up to £800 for the Orwell Trench, a seam-sealed technical version - is good.
Taylor is confident the brand is now on the right footing for growth: “The structure is there, and most importantly the investment is there.”
It is also growing internationally. Harvey said: “We are growing quite aggressively from a sales point of view, in particular in Italy, Spain, the Middle East, Russia and the US.” Men’s sales dominate at 70% of total sales, but the brand is working on building womenswear.
With an as-yet-unnamed British actor to be unveiled as the face of a marketing blitz in July, all eyes will be on the quintessential British brand to see if it can succeed.
- Aquascutum will start selling its spring 15 menswear on June 17. It shows at Pitti Uomo in Florence on June 17-20.