Saturday, 21 April 2012

Aquascutum: No Return of the Mac

 An early example of Aquascutum's classic trench coat in action.

[Image via the Financial Times].
The Autumn/Winter 2012 collection from Aquascutum.

This week we've lost one of Britain's most recognised heritage brands, as Aquascutum collapsed after a rich history of trading to the public since 1851. The company was known for its trench coat, which was actually worn in wartime trenches (yep, unsurprisingly that's how the name was developed), but soon the rich and famous were known for wrapping up in the same style, albeit with less mortal peril involved in a trip to the shops. 

After years of being known as a staple wardrobe choice but without the edge of new and contemporary fashion that major rival Burberry had, it's now been revealed that 115 people are to lose their jobs in the Corby factory which lovingly produced Aquascutum stock. The brand prided itself on being made in Britain, which is why it's particularly sad that its future looks so bleak, as it just emphasises why so many retailers end up outsourcing their production to a far-flung country in order to stay afloat. Whereas Aquascutum refused to fall in line with the trend, the cost of keeping everything authentically British will have made it an uphill struggle. In recent years we've also seen the resurgence of fellow UK brand Barbour, now the obvious outerwear choice for both the landed gentry and the average celebrity It-girl at a festival, but this success (or frightening ubiquity) hasn't spread to poor old Aquascutum, despite being run by Harold Tillman - a.k.a. the Chairman of the British Fashion Council,and later a head honcho of Jaeger, Belinda Earl. 

It's funny how the decline of the company also seems so typically British in its own way, as if it was a pensioner stoically refusing to change and adapt to modern life or to go into a self-promotional overdrive in order to survive. "Oh, I'm alright, don't worry about me, I'll muddle along," it would say as it secretly wondered how on earth it would get out of this mess, but being too proud and polite to ask for help. I do think that, given enough time and a group of enthusiasts, Aquascutum could have had its own gentle revival, without the unsubtle youth modelling a la Burberry, but with a campaign that did for the English chap what Tommy Hilfiger did for American preppy clans, or what Alexander McQueen did for wonderfully Scottish tartan. 

It is disappointing that Tillman and his team, followed by Belinda Earl of the Jaeger Group, could not rescue the company, but I can fully understand that it is tricky to devise a strategy that keeps such a traditional brand's bare values in sight without destroying them in order to create something new. Perhaps Aquascutum just didn't want a Madonna-style reinvention, complete with leotards and stupid buzzwords. But, putting pride aside, it is incredibly disappointing that we'll be unlikely to see this iconic name still afloat when trench warfare is poignantly remembered in 2014 to mark a century since the outbreak of WWI. It seems that this company will be staying firmly in the past.

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