Aquascutum collapse: The beginning of the end for luxury clothing brands?
Luxury Jaeger-owned clothing retailer Aquascutum recently collapsed into administration after 161 years in the fashion industry. On one hand, it is surprising for those who expected the fashion house to be able to sustain itself; on the other, have we actually seen a regular and memorable advertisement campaign in Vogue or Harper’s Bazaar? The last ones that stuck with me were from the 2006 campaign with Pierce Brosnan, and I had only remembered because the actor was riding off his James Bond fame. With Aquascutum’s lack of publicity and rare appearance on the red carpet, can we honestly say that we hadn’t seen this coming?
Meanwhile, the expected profits of Burberry, another timeless British brand and Aquascutum’s key competitor, rack up to £372m for 2011. While Aquascutum is famed for dressing the likes of Churchill, Bogart and the Queen Mother, the creative director of Burberry, Christopher Bailey, brings in Eddie Redmayne and Emma Watson to keep up with the younger generation. Yes, fashion entails the traditional and classic, but what about the new and modern? Although paying homage to its heritage, shouldn’t fashion also reinvent itself through trends? If not, what else is the runway made to showcase but innovation and creativity?
You can’t say that Aquascutum hasn’t tried though. In 2009, the British Fashion Council chairperson Harold Tillman bought the already struggling business (reportedly making a loss of £24m) in hopes of reviving and developing it into a global phenomenon. Although effortful, the dream was too ambitious. They even brought in the young Joanna Sykes in 2010, who made a splash in Milan working for Armani. She vowed to “shake up” the brand, and shake up she had: her debut collection for Fall/Winter 2011, titled “English Icons”, had garnered critical praise for its playful use of proportion and deconstruction of the standard trench and pea-coat. Sykes brought colour – a lot of tangerine, specifically – to what was once soulless and dull.
Its final creative efforts were not enough for a turnaround, made worse by the fact that Aquascutum did not have official licensing in Asia, where a large portion of other brands’ overall income derives from.
While the factories close down, rendering a staff of 115 unemployed, another worrying thought creeps above the horizon: is this the end of the luxury brand as we know it? Probably not. Despite the recent recession, the big names like Vuitton, Chanel and Hermès continue to thrive. As long as there is money, there will be consumers. If anything, the downfall of Aquascutum ominously predicts a similar fate for designers who fail to become more cutting edge and commercialised. In which case, the news of Aquascutum’s possible fate might provide a good kick up the backside for the fashion industry.
Ironically, in preserving its legacy Aquascutum rendered itself uncompetitive and bankrupt. Nevertheless, despite its lack of vision and consumer awareness, Aquascutum gave it all its best. Considering the economic climate, this seemed even more admirable. I bid thee adieu!