LONDON — A question mark hangs over the future direction of Aquascutum after chief executive Kim Winser resigned suddenly.
Winser stepped down after her bid to buy the outerwear, ready-to-wear and accessories brand was rebuffed by Aquascutum’s Japanese parent Renown Inc. Her departure was first reported Friday on WWD.com.
According to industry sources, Winser broke the news to the 400 staff members during an emotional meeting at the brand’s Regent Street headquarters, and made her final exit later that day. A source close to Winser said she had no immediate work plans and would be taking a vacation.
A financial source said Winser, who joined Aquascutum in 2006 and who had been working on a management buyout for the past 18 months, had two solid investors behind her, and had expected Renown to accept the deal.
Although Winser never publicly discussed her plans for a management buyout, sources said she was eager to continue building and refining the iconic British brand, which was founded in 1851 and has been through a series of ups and downs since it was acquired by Renown in 1990.
The Japanese company, which has been struggling with losses and is about to undergo a major restructuring, put Aquascutum up for sale last October. Renown is also Aquascutum’s licensee in Japan, and operates about 200 stores in the region.
On Monday, a Renown spokeswoman confirmed Winser’s resignation. “We have no comment on this personnel change, since it’s our foreign subsidiary, and basically we make comments on domestic events,” she said.
She declined to say why the board had rejected Winser’s bid.
However, Takaaki Kawashima, a former chairman of Aquascutum and the former leading shareholder of Renown who left in November, believes the Japanese firm rebuffed Winser for specific strategic reasons. “Renown’s focus is to maintain Aquascutum’s profit base in Japan and Asia. They do not comprehend that the value of the brand, the core, the heritage comes from England,” he told WWD. “They just want to sell as much as they can in China and Japan. It’s a strategy that may work in the short term, but it will never do in the long term.”
The spokeswoman declined to comment on a report in the Sunday Times of London that Renown is in talks to sell Aquascutum to the brand’s Chinese licensee, YGM Trading.
“As for negotiation about selling the brand, we are continuously working on this,” she said. “There is no comment about which company we are talking with or which stage we are on.”
Renown bought Aquascutum because of its strength in the Japanese market, and over the next decade went through a series of on-again, off-again attempts to reenergize the brand, hiring new management, remodeling the Regent Street flagship and tapping new designers.
However, Aquascutum’s growth remained focused on the Far East, and the attempts to revitalize the company were ill-fated until it brought Winser on board in 2006. She had previously transformed Pringle from a producer of dowdy golf and knit wear into a luxury company.
For the fiscal year ended Feb. 28, Renown reported net losses of 12.3 billion yen, or $121.9 million. Renown’s shareholders plan to meet this Thursday to approve the appointment of a new president, Minoru Kitabatakem, who is expected to spearhead the firm’s restructuring plan.
Winser, who declined to comment Friday, joined Aquascutum with the aim of transforming it from a fusty maker of trenchcoats and outerwear into a luxury brand, and restoring its image in the West — much as Rose Marie Bravo had done at Burberry. She signed a series of licenses for footwear, ties, scarves and accessories and worked with designers Michael Herz and Graeme Fidler to update the brand’s collections. Last month, Winser said Aquascutum’s sales rose 20 percent in the first quarter, and that fall 2009 wholesale sales in Europe are up 60 percent year-on-year. She also confirmed the brand is on track to generate sales of 450 million pounds, or $697.5 million at current exchange, by 2010.
Aquascutum’s wholesale accounts in the U.S. include Bergdorf Goodman, Saks Fifth Avenue and Bloomingdale’s. In Britain, the company is expanding its space at Harrods, Selfridges, Liberty and Harvey Nichols. “She has both nurtured and protected the brand throughout these difficult economic times, and during her recent negotiations and attempts to do an mbo she has come across grave challenges in Japan — both culturally and financially — from the board,” Marigay McKee, fashion and beauty director at Harrods, said of Winser.
There'll be no rest for those headed to Europe for men's, as Paris just closed the gap with Milan. According to a provisional calendar released by the Chambre Syndicale, Paris Men's Week will now open a day earlier on January 16. See new highlights on the official lineup on WWD.com. #wwdnews #wwdfashion (📷: @kukukuba)
BREAKING: Jonathan Saunders is leaving @DVF. The designer has resigned from his position as chief creative officer of Diane von Furstenberg, the company said in a statement on Friday. At the time of his hire, von Furstenberg said Saunders’ arrival symbolized and facilitated her stepping back from the day-to-day duties that occupy the work of a full-time creative director. The British designer joined DVF in May 2016 and was in charge of all product categories. #wwdnews
For @versace_official’s spring ad campaign, the brand emphasized the archival prints from the spring tribute collection dedicated to the late Gianni Versace. Closing out the show were five of Gianni’s favorite models: Cindy, Naomi, Carla, Helena, and Claudia. Bowing on December 18, the new campaign is yet another tribute to supermodel-dom as the images by Steven Meisel are fronted by @iamnaomicampbell, @cturlington, @gisele and more. #wwdfashion
Four-time Oscar-nominated actress Annette Bening has been waiting 20 years to play Gloria Graham in "Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool," which will be released on December 29. The movie about Graham – a Hollywood star known for her controversial relationship with a younger Englishman named Peter Turner – is based off a memoir Turned wrote. "She felt vulnerable to him, because she loved him, she really did love him. And anyone that we really truly are in love with, we re vulnerable to in a very deep way," said Bening. Read our full interview with the modern icon of an actress on WWD.com. #wwdeye (📷: @ninebagatelles; Styled by @cristinaehrlich)
The crisp white button down: a staple that can be dressed up or down and accessorized throughout the decades. Here, on a Art Basel-goer in 2017 on the left and on the iconic Audrey Hepburn in “Roman Holiday” in 1953 on the right. #tbt #wwdfashion (📷: Andrew Morales)
Known for her work with @victoriassecret, 25-year-old model @georgiafowler is raising her profile in Hollywood. Fowler stars in @vincecamuto’s holiday campaign, which launched in partnership with “Pitch Perfect 3.” “Almost every shoot with Vince Camuto, I’ve had to face a fear…It was definitely a challenge. I’m so grateful for it, though. I’ve always wanted to be a pop star, so that was the perfect chance,” Fowler said. Head to WWD.com to read about Fowler’s experience modeling, including at the #VSFashionShow, and her relationship with Nick Jonas. #wwdeye (📷: @jilliansollazzo)
EXCLUSIVE: Huda Kattan just became the first beauty influencer to land a major beauty deal. Kattan's business, @hudabeauty, has received a minority investment from private equity firm TSG Consumer Partners. The brand, which industry sources say is on track to do $200 million in retail sales for 2017, will receive support on product, retail and geographic expansion through the deal. Get all the details on the deal and read @_a_collins' interview with Kattan on WWD.com. Link in bio. (📷: @jgreenery) #wwdbeauty #wwdnews
Peruvian model @juanaburga_official – who is known for walking the runways of @rodarte, @viviennewestwood and @torybuch – is making the move to the big screen with drama “Los Últimos.” The film premiered in Argentina in November and arrives in the U.S. and Europe in 2018. On making the switch from modeling to acting, Burga told WWD: “It’s a completely different thing – a lot of people think it’s similar or try to connect things, especially like getting used to the camera or being looked at all the time or playing these different characrers, but film is a completely different story.” #wwdeye (📷: @jgreenery)
London’s newly opened @designmuseum will look back on the life and work of Azzedine Alaïa in a show that the designer helped to curate before he died of heart failure last month. The retrospective, which Alaïa had worked on with Mark Wilson, chief curator of the @groningermuseum, will look at the impact of his work worldwide. The show, “Azzedine Alaïa: The Couturier,” will run from May 10 to October 7. Read more about the exhibit on WWD.com #wwdnews #wwdfashion (📷: @zefashioninsider)