The management team behind Jaeger have acquired Aquascutum, in a deal that creates a group with combined global brand sales of more than £300m and returns the struggling 158-year-old luxury fashion label to its British roots.
Harold Tillman, the retail entrepreneur and Belinda Earl, the chief executive of Jaeger, have bought the fashion brand – most famous for its trench coats – from the Japanese company Renown for an undisclosed price. Since it was founded in 1851, Aquascutum has achieved several royal warrants and its customers have included the Queen Mother, Baroness Thatcher, Sophia Loren and Humphrey Bogart.
The two retail heavyweights will seek to deliver a similar turnaround to that achieved at Jaeger, which Mr Tillman acquired in 2003. They believe that ailing Aquascutum's biggest opportunity is in overseas markets, including the US, Middle East and Russia, as well as its 17 standalone stores and concessions in department stores in the UK.
Mr Tillman, the chairman and majority owner of Jaeger, vowed to develop the Aquascutum brand globally. On paper, the deal is a fillip for 340 staff, of whom 120 work at its factory in Corby, Northamptonshire, but a Jaeger spokeswoman declined to comment on their future prospects.
Aquascutum has always made its clothes in England and has had the same UK flagship store on Regent Street since 1901. In 1853, the tailor John Emary produced a crafted shower-proof fabric that was used for coats for officers in the Crimean War between 1853 and 1856. Later in the 19th century, King Edward VII became Aquascutum's first royal client and in 1897 it was granted its first royal warrant.
British soldiers of all ranks wore Aquascutum's trench coats in both world wars in the 20th century. Aquascutum was family-owned until 1990, when Renown bought it for £77m. But in recent years it has lost its way and faced an uncertain future.
For the year ended 29 December 2007, Aquascutum's UK pre-tax losses nearly doubled to £15.7m, from £7.5m the year before, according to accounts filed at Companies House. The loss included an exceptional operating charge of £4.7m on fixed assets, but its sales fell by more than £1m to £26.9m.
Renown initiated a strategic review of Aquascutum this spring. In May, Kim Winser, Aquascutum's chief executive, made a management buyout offer for the business, but this was rejected by Renown and Ms Winser left shortly after.
Ms Earl, Jaeger's chief executive, vowed to drive synergies between Aquascutum and Jaeger, which has global sales of £140m, and grow the brand through its international stockists. She said: "We believe it has the potential to expand in both existing and new markets." Aquascutum, which wholesales into 26 countries, will continue to wholesale into Asia, but YGM Trading, the Chinese licensee for the brand, has acquired the rights for the Asia business.
Robert Clark, the senior partner at Retail Knowledge Bank, said the revitalisation of rival Burberry, under its current management team, contrasts with the recent fortunes of Aquascutum under Renown. He said: "Aquascutum was a Burberry waiting to happen, but it never had the investment, management input and innovative leadership in a global world to do a Burberry."