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International rescue could be only lifeline for Aquascutum

Aquascutum is likely to be rescued by an international group according to industry sources, following the British heritage brand’s collapse into administration this week.

Aquascutum, which is owned by British Fashion Council chairman Harold Tillman, has already attracted the attention of Hong Kong-based YGM Trading, which owns the brand in Asia. Other bidders are thought to include Ittierre, which holds the licence for the brand in Europe, and Hong Kong sourcing company Li & Fung.

First round bids are expected next week, according to administrator FRP Advisory. It declined to comment on interested bidders.

Industry figures and insolvency specialists agreed that Aquascutum will be “extremely challenging” to sell given its financial history and dependency on former sister company Jaeger, now in the hands of Better Capital after being sold on Monday (April 16). The problem lies in YGM Trading’s ownership of the brand in 42 countries in Asia, they said. This will rule out any opportunity of gaining a foothold in one of the world’s biggest growth markets.

One source close to Aquascutum said: “It’s a loss-maker and has historically lost money. If an outsider comes in, someone has already got mainland Europe and they can’t touch Asia. Who will buy it already knowing that these markets are taken?”

Sources also said Aquascutum had little assets beyond intellectual property in the UK and the US. The three stores, 16 concessions and its factory in Corby would have little appeal to a UK buyer.

Bill Webb, senior lecturer in retail management at the London College of Fashion, said YGM Trading would be keen to avoid “divergence” of the brand on two continents. There had already been obvious differences in design, development and sourcing between Asia and the UK since Tillman bought Aquascutum in 2009. A new owner might accelerate this.
He explained: “Aquascutum’s a brand that has grown on the strength of the Asian consumer. The world is a small place today so to see differences could be detrimental to [YGM’s] brand.”

Other sources have suggested that department stores such as Debenhams and House of Fraser might also be interested in adding Aquascutum to their own-brand portfolio. One source said: “It would make a great department store brand because it carries a bigger price tag - and bigger margin - than an own label.”

Readers' comments (3)

  • Eric Musgrave

    With the renewed interest in UK manufacturing, let's hope that some party with a long-term vision, lots of money and high-quality management skills can come in to resurrect the Aquascutum factory at Corby in Northants. Rainwear is a British specialty and the Aquascutum trenches and macs have been icons for many decades, so there has to be some hope. The years of under-investment (dating from long before the Tillman era), however, may prove to be too damaging. So we will lose another 115 skilled and experienced workers.

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  • Fear for the future of Aquascutum in UK and European markets. However, it is worth pointing out that YGM do a superb job with the brand throughout the Far East. Just a pity that successive owners and management teams in London failed to understand the core strengths. Incredible waste of money on misdirected 'vanity' projects instead of working hard on core brand strengths. Fingers crossed for a good outcome.

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  • Well said Mr Hewitt

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