Talk of Jaeger Sale Leaves Brand’s Destiny in Question

LONDON — For a brand in the doldrums, Jaeger is certainly getting a lot of attention. In late January, Coats PLC quietly sold its Jaeger and Viyella businesses to Richard Thompson of Riverhawk Investments — and now it looks as if Thompson...

LONDON — For a brand in the doldrums, Jaeger is certainly getting a lot of attention. In late January, Coats PLC quietly sold its Jaeger and Viyella businesses to Richard Thompson of Riverhawk Investments — and now it looks as if Thompson is already preparing to flip them.

This story first appeared in the March 10, 2003 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Thompson acquired 117 retail outlets, 230 concessions in the U.K. and Europe, and 50 franchises worldwide for a nominal fee of 1 pound — or $1.60. Under the terms of the deal between Coats and Thompson, however, Coats has retained the long-term lease of Jaeger’s flagship on Regent Street, and Jaeger’s U.S. business.

Now, industry sources close to Jaeger say Thompson is ready to sell the brand to the textile entrepreneur Harold Tillman, owner of Baird Menswear Brands, and the Viyella business to the knitwear firm Harris Watson Holdings.

Thompson did not return calls on Friday. Tillman could not be reached for comment. A spokesman for Harris Watson Holdings declined to comment.

As reported in September, Coats had been looking to sell its fashion retail division, which included the Jaeger and Viyella businesses, to focus on its core thread businesses, which make threads for apparel, footwear and industrial use. In the first six months, Coats’ fashion division posted a loss of $12.5 million on sales of $94.8 million. Dollar figures are converted from British pounds at the current exchange rate.

Coats blamed the losses on the Jaeger business, which has suffered from problems with fit and design. Jaeger will release its full-year results this month. The net asset value of both Jaeger and Viyella is $75 million.

It is unclear whether Bella Freud, who designs a capsule collection for Jaeger, will continue working with the brand. Freud, whose contract expires in June, could not be reached for comment.

Sources said no one within the company has been paid since the sale, and everyone is shocked about the prospect of another sale.

“What’s been going on at this company is disgusting,” said one source.

Meanwhile, the fate of Jaeger’s U.S. business is unclear. Last October, WWD reported that the 120-year-old British brand was working toward creating a broader market appeal, with North America an important part of the plan.

The vertically integrated company has 35 shops in the U.S. and Canada combined, along with a handful of specialty store accounts that carry Jaeger’s women’s collections.

A Coats spokesman said the company is in a quiet period and could not comment on its strategy. Coats will release its results on March 25. Ian Welham, chief operating officer for Jaeger North America, issued a similar statement.

There have been reports in New York that Jaeger is planning to rent its flagship at 818 Madison Avenue, between 68th and 69th Streets, as well as its other stores in the U.S.

Jaeger has kept such a low profile in the U.S. that some retailers didn’t even know it still existed.

“We are part of a group of 12 specialty stores that includes Saks Jandell in Washington, D.C., Auers in Denver and Maison Weiss in Jackson, Miss.,” said Bob Benham, chief executive of Balliet’s, an upscale specialty store in Oklahoma City. “Jaeger is a name that just never comes up. Honestly, I didn’t know they were still around because they have no presence in this part of the country.”

Janet Brown, owner of an eponymous specialty store in Port Washington, N.Y., said Jaeger never progressed beyond its traditional roots. “It was a classic in the Burberry vein, but it never got modern. I don’t know anybody that carries the brand.”

In May 2001, Jaeger jump-started its image campaign in the U.K. with a fresh focus, including an updated signature line and an exclusive and edgier capsule collection designed by Freud, accompanied by a new marketing and advertising campaign and a revamped store design that bowed in Leeds, England, and is being rolled out across the U.K.

Last fall, Jaeger unveiled its first store prototype outside the U.K. at the upscale NorthPark Center shopping mall in Dallas.

The 1,500-square-foot unit was designed by David Collins, and first-year sales are planned at $750,000, Welham said at a cocktail party held last month to christen the new store.

Jaeger’s Madison Avenue store, which opened in 1973, is on track for sales of $1.5 million this year, Welham noted.

Jaeger has produced apparel since 1884, when its first shop opened in London with a collection of wool items. It evolved into a luxury brand, with many styles cut from cashmere, silk and camel hair.