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Chinese put Aquascutum on the menu

The departure of chief executive Kim Winser and rumours of a potential takeover bid point to an uncertain future for the luxury brand

No sooner had Aquascutum chief executive Kim Winser exited the business last week than Chinese clothing group YGM Trading emerged as one of the potential bidders for the luxury heritage brand.

The developments followed protracted rumours and uncertainty over the business’s future. Japanese owner Renown, which bought Aquascutum for 20 billion yen (£113.2 million) in 1990, was last October reported to be considering selling the brand as part of a plan to sell off some of its portfolio to try to stem increasing losses.

Winser arranged a management buyout, but Renown’s rejection of the offer is understood to have precipitated her departure from the company.

Now, according to reports, YGM Trading, which since 1998 has had the licence for the brand in China, Singapore and Malaysia, where it has more than 140 outlets, is in talks about making a bid for the brand. Asia is Aquascutum’s biggest market, with a customer base hungry for upmarket labels, especially ones with a heritage like Aquascutum’s. However, as Drapers went to press there was thought to be other interest.

Focusing on its roots

When Winser joined in 2006 from Pringle, where she was chief executive, she was charged with turning around the brand - famous for its iconic trench coat and its distinguished customer list including politicians and royalty - which was making heavy losses.

Her strategy focused on giving the 158-year-old brand more fashion credibility across women’s and men’s ranges. Alongside its catwalk and mainline ranges, in 2006 the brand introduced Aquascutum Ltd, a 1960s-inspired men’s suiting range designed by Savile Row tailor Nick Hart. One premium brand operator blamed the repositioning for some of Renown’s difficulties. He said: “Aquascutum tried to go too upmarket. It’s a premium but not a luxury fashion brand. The wholesale business has reduced in the UK, and the catwalks and marketing must have cost a lot, which doesn’t help turn a profit.”

In the UK the brand has streamlined its stockist base to reposition itself as a “pure” luxury business. Concessions in department store House of Fraser closed earlier this year and Aquascutum is now only sold in Harrods, Liberty, Selfridges and Harvey Nichols, as well as London designer indie Matches.

Aquascutum has not yet filed its accounts at Companies House. They were due in October last year. However, global brand turnover across the company is
understood to be about £220m, but the business remains loss-making.

Before Winser left it is understood that like-for-like sales for the first quarter of 2009 were up 20%. But with a replacement for Winser and a potential sale of the business yet to be announced, it remains to be seen what will become of her target of moving the business into profit by 2010.

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