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Winser Said Eyeing Control of Aquascutum

According to industry sources here, ceo Kim Winser is eager to take control of Aquascutum, which will likely be put up for sale by Renown Inc. soon.

LONDON — Kim Winser, president and chief executive of Aquascutum, wants to ramp up her revival of the British clothing and accessories brand with a management buyout that’s set to take place over the next few months.

According to industry sources here, Winser, who took over the helm of Aquascutum in spring 2006, is eager to take full control of the company, which will likely be put up for sale by its Japanese parent, Renown Inc., soon.

On Tuesday, Renown, which has been struggling with losses and an outdated operating structure, unveiled plans for a company-wide overhaul, including selling Aquascutum and closing 16 loss-making brands. The apparel company owns a total of 62 brands, although Aquascutum is the only global one in its stable.

“Aquascutum is halfway through its relaunch, and the time was right to take it back from Renown. It is a great opportunity for management to get to the heart of the business,” said one London-based industry source, who requested anonymity.

“Management has been working on this for a while, and they are hoping the deal will be done by the year’s end,” the source added.

The source said the deal would not be a leveraged buyout, and would be structured in such a way that it did not leave Aquascutum management exposed to the roller-coaster of the credit markets.

Winser declined to comment.

Meanwhile, a source close to Renown said that a year ago the company hired Daiwa Securities SMBC to help it seek a buyer for Aquascutum. Several companies showed interest, the source said, and Renown began negotiating seriously with one fund, but the talks fizzled.

“Kim Winser is one of the big appealing points with regard to the sale of Aquascutum, and it is understandable that she put herself forward,” the source said.

Renown has owned Aquascutum since 1990, buying the brand because of its strength in the Japanese market. But the parent firm went through a series of on-again, off-again attempts to reenergize the iconic trenchcoat brand, hiring new management, remodeling the Regent Street flagship and tapping new designers. The brand’s growth remained focused on the Far East, however, and the attempts to revitalize the company were ill-fated until it brought Winser on board in 2006.

Winser, who had previously transformed Pringle from a producer of dowdy golfwear into a luxury brand, and who was awarded an Order of the British Empire honor from Queen Elizabeth II for her efforts there, is now presiding over the renaissance she kick-started at Aquascutum.

The company was founded in 1851 and made its name in tailoring and performance fabrics. Winser has capitalized on the brand heritage, building up the outerwear business and expanding women’s and men’s ready-to-wear and accessories.

Last year, she inked licenses with the Italian manufacturer Antichi Pellettieri SpA for footwear and accessories, and with Novaseta, the accessories company owned by Ermenegildo Zegna, to produce ties and scarves.

Winser has introduced a women’s personal tailoring service at the Regent Street flagship store and, together with designers Michael Herz and Graeme Fidler, updated and expanded the company’s fabric offer with technologically advanced textiles and exclusive designs.

Aquascutum’s wholesale accounts include Bergdorf Goodman, Saks Fifth Avenue, Browns and Harrods in Britain, Corso Como and Luisa via Roma in Italy, and Villa Moda in the Middle East.

Sales at the brand’s Regent Street flagship are up 20 percent year-on-year, and 24 percent at Harrods.

The brand’s sales are currently 220 million pounds, or $430 million at current exchange, and Winser has said she plans to more than double them to 450 million pounds, or $886 million, by 2010.

And while Aquascutum has been barreling ahead, its parent has been losing ground to competitors. Industry observers say that Renown is not a nimble company, and has not been able to compete with sharper, more modern operations such as Itochu and Mitsui.

On Tuesday, Renown issued a profit warning for its 2009 results. Consolidated sales have been lowered 3.4 percent from 81.4 billion yen, or $790.3 million, to 78.6 billion yen, or $763.1 million. Net losses will rise from 3.9 billion yen, or $37.9 million, to 4.1 billion yen, or $39.8 million. Dollar figures were converted at an average exchange rate during the period under review.