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Shopwatch: Aquascutum

A year after it was bought out of administration, Aquascutum has returned to central London

Aquascutum has made a grand return to London’s West End with a new store on Great Marlborough Street, directly opposite Liberty.

Eight weeks before the official November 19 opening, the store concept was still being decided on, but when Drapers visited at the beginning of December it looked anything but thrown-together.

Light wooden flooring and fixtures, glass counters, couches and floor-to-ceiling photography give the 4,546 sq ft space a light and modern feel, while still allowing the British brand to push its heritage credentials.

Designed by AMD Interior Architecture, which says the idea was to “evoke the feeling of moving through different rooms of a grand house”, the store incorporates several elements sourced from British designers such as Tom Kirk, who designed bespoke chandeliers, or items manufactured domestically, including rugs created by Ayrshire-based specialist Turnberry Rug Works.

The layout is commercially savvy - womenswear and the newly launched kidswear range are on the ground floor, showcasing these collections to the more casual browsers, with the more dominant menswear division upstairs.

Product quality is also being improved, meaning the business plans to stretch its price points for the next few seasons in its new home. Classic jersey polos will remain at £65, but exit prices will move from the current £1,400 for a camel Burlington coat to more than £2,000 for a double-faced Italian cashmere overcoat.

Raincoats range from £650 to £900 for both men and women, while a child’s trench is £225. The junior range, which launched for autumn 13, starts at £65 for a cotton long-sleeved shirt.

One of the reasons for the store’s fast-track launch was to catch the Christmas shopper, but Aquascutum is very much considering the long game, treating the launch as the brand’s first step in a bid to a return to its former glory. According to chief operating officer Mark Taylor: “We’ve got a huge, loyal customer base that was disappointed not to have a West End store. Since we started trading, people have been walking past and going ‘wow, Aquascutum is back’.”

Parent company YGM Trading has invested £800,000 into the new store, demonstrating its plans for Aquascutum’s future. Hong Kong-based YGM, which also owns J Lindeberg, Guy Laroche and golfing brand Ashworth, bought the company out of administration in May 2012 for £15m.

Although Taylor won’t go into details, he says money is being ploughed in to get the business back on track. That means rebuilding its reputation as well as fundamentals such as quality, design and a physical presence. With YGM’s financial backing, Taylor plans to bring Aquascutum’s other UK stores, at Westfield London, Windsor and Canary Wharf, “up to this level”.

“There is work to do at Westfield, definitely, to get it to what it should be, but hopefully by March next year you will walk in and it will feel like this,” he says. “We want to bring the customer experience up to the level that Aquascutum should be providing.”

This is on top of Taylor’s expansion plans - he is looking for more sites in London’s Brompton Road, Bond Street and Covent Garden for openings in the next couple of years - and although the Great Marlborough Street store has the feel of a flagship, it will be one of these new locations that will become the brand’s focal point.

The bricks-and-mortar launch follows the relaunch of Aquascutum’s website in August, and its social media accounts were turned back on after being shut for six months “because the message we were sending out was very wrong”.

“We’ve been quiet for too long and we have got to invest, and we are investing,” Taylor adds. “This is the first time the brand has had the three critical elements it needs to make it successful - funding, belief and the right resources. YGM Trading believes in the brand, they are willing to invest and the product is getting stronger each season.”

Aquascutum will benefit from making its grand return just off Regent Street because of the kudos the brand has with international consumers as well as domestic ones. With some 1,200 points of sale in mainland China, the company has recognised the importance of having a central London base, allowing it to wear its Great British credentials with pride.

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