LONDON — Aquascutum’s new owners have their eyes on expansion. Belinda Earl, who has purchased Aquascutum Group Ltd. with Harold Tillman, said the plan is to broaden the brand’s reach, expand the accessories lines, and push deeper into the U.S., European, Russian and Middle Eastern markets. “Aquascutum is a big brand with huge international recognition, and we see a lot of product and marketing opportunities,” Earl told WWD Tuesday. She said there were no plans to change Aquascutum’s luxury positioning, or to make it a men’s-only brand that would complement the women’s clothing line of Jaeger, which Earl and Tillman also own. She said Aquascutum could potentially have a “broader reach” with the possible launch of new, less expensive collections. Japan’s Renown Inc. struck a deal to sell Aquascutum to U.K.-based Broadwick Group Ltd., an investment vehicle controlled by the retail tycoon Tillman, chairman of the British Fashion Council, and Earl, ceo of Jaeger, for an undisclosed price. As part of the deal, Tillman and Earl sold Aquascutum’s intellectual property rights, including the Aquascutum trademark for China and the rest of Asia, to Hong Kong-based YGM Mart Ltd., which had been the brand’s licensee in China. YGM had been negotiating to buy the entire company since the spring. Renown, however, will continue to manufacture and distribute the British brand’s products in Japan through a long-term master licensing agreement with YGM. Earl, who has been Jaeger’s ceo since 2004 and had previously held a similar position at the British department store Debenhams, said she would run Aquascutum and Jaeger. Aquascutum has been without a ceo since the end of May when Kim Winser, who was spearheading a long-term repositioning of the brand, quit after her bid to buy the company was rebuffed by Renown. According to industry sources here, after she quit, Winser strongly encouraged Tillman and Earl to bid for Aquascutum so that it could return to British ownership — and remain a luxury brand. Aquascutum was founded in Britain in 1851 as an outerwear company, and acquired by Renown in 1990.
According to the company, current annual sales are approximately 190 million pounds, or $314 million, with U.K. retail and wholesale sales generating 30 million pounds, or $50 million. Losses as of December 2007, the latest figures registered, were 22.9 million pounds, or $37.8 million. Earl said while Aquascutum and Jaeger will remain separate, there are clear back-office efficiencies and synergies between the two. Aquascutum has just one stand-alone store in the U.K., while Jaeger, a premium fashion brand with global sales of 140 million pounds, or $231 million, has more than 60 stand-alone stores. “We would look at expanding Aquascutum’s retail presence in the U.K.,” she said. Earl said she’d also like to wholesale Jaeger more in Europe, and that will likely be done through Aquascutum’s Milan showroom. “Both brands are in a very different place, which means their sphere of influence is broad,” she said. That may be true, but the Aquascutum that Tillman and Earl have purchased is a different animal from the one Winser was running: In the past, some 70 percent of sales and the bulk of profits came from the Far East. Earl, however, said this would not be a problem going forward. “Our plan is to develop the brand positioning in the West, and we will continue to wholesale to the Chinese company. I think the business will be much more straightforward now,” she said. Renown is in the process of restructuring its business as it grapples with ongoing financial difficulties and weak macroeconomic conditions in its home market of Japan. It put Aquascutum on the market last year. The Japanese company said the transactions will generate extraordinary losses of about 3.5 billion yen, or about $38 million, for its third quarter ending Nov. 30.
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