How On Earth Did They Do That?

“How has Aquascutum gone bust when every other luxury brand is rolling in cash?”


Sadly, Harold Tillman’s attempt to save the classic Aquascutum fashion brand has come to nought and it is being placed into administration. Mr Tillman, who also owns Jaeger, bought the brand in 2009 after the Japanese trading house that owned it, Renown, got into financial difficulties. Mr Tillman’s instincts were sound but it seems it was too late and too complicated for this particular phoenix to rise from the ashes. But how on Earth did a brand with such fantastic brand equity end up in a mess like this?

All brand’s have both a functional and an emotional offering. For many luxury brands there is far more emphasis on the emotional then the functional. I really couldn’t tell you what the functional difference between a Mulberry handbag and any other was, or even between most types of washing powder for that matter.

Aquascutum has a wealth of history to build an emotional story around including: it made coats for officers in the Crimean War and trench coats for all ranks in both World Wars; a long patronage of the British royal family starting with Edward VII who ordered a coat in the Prince of Wales check; its clothes were popular with the Suffragettes after it opened a womenswear department in 1900; and it has dressed, amongst others, the Prince of Wales, Prince Rainier of Monaco, Sir Winston Churchill, Baroness Thatcher, Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Sophia Loren, Cary Grant, and Michael Caine.

On its own this is enough to sustain a fashion empire for generations, which it did, but the brand slowly faded away because it didn’t refresh this simple positioning over time to keep it fresh and in tune with the zeitgeist. If that was all then it would be a shame but, unlike just about all of its competitors, Aquascutum also had a functional claim to fame in the early years that it should have retained and made much more of.

Aquascutum is Latin for “watershield”. In 1853, a couple of years after John Emary opened his first shop in Regent Street, London, he invented and patented the first waterproof wool. That is how he got to clothe so many troops and create such an iconic item of clothing as the British army trench coat. Somewhere along the line though this functional nugget of branding gold slipped to the back of management and consumers’ minds and with it a huge differentiating opportunity was lost.

As I am sure Mr Tillman recognised the Aquascutum brand has such a wealth of brand collateral to build on it would have been very valuable by now if successive management’s hadn’t lost the plot. It is to my mind quite fundamental to not only understand what your strongest market positioning is but then to make sure your brand shouts it consistently from the roof tops and it evolves with the times. Aquascutum is a tragic case of where this just didn’t happen.

Mr Tillman was on the right track but he certainly made his life harder by selling the Asian rights to the brand to someone else. Is there another Harold Tillman out there with the faith and the money to exploit Aquascutum’s latent potential, damaged as it is, even at this late hour? Perhaps YGM Trading, the Hong Kong-based company that own the Asian rights will take it on.



One Response to How On Earth Did They Do That?

  1. James May 16, 2012 at 10:16 pm #

    Thank you so much for this artclie, it saved me time!

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