Trench Warfare

Last month marked the news of a sad demise from a historical fashion brand. One hundred and sixty years of dressing the very best from Cary Grant to Sophia Loren, fashion retailer Aquascutum had gone into administration. But now as the Hong Kong-based owner of the brand in Asia sets to consolidate its control, new hope is stirring for the luxury brand. But what went wrong for our quintessentially British label?

Founded in 1851, Aquascutum quickly undertook the responsibility of becoming London’s favourite for the cosmopolitan lifestyle. Latin for water shield, the brand adopted the first waterproofing wool – the beginning of a long relationship with high end sophistication and functionality. Elegant attire for the fashion conscious city dweller was the game Aquascutum played best. As a label they created (or create — they’re still operating despite job fragility for the workers in Corby) unpretentious, discreet luxuries which honoured their craftsmanship and built a reputation trusted by many and relied upon by even more.

With all the traditional conduct and care one can well imagine a bullish, quick-witted Winston Churchill being kitted up, so to speak, in tailoring equally as sharp as the mind of the man himself.

But a common, recurring factor was afoot. Few names, despite their great notoriety remain fresh (tricky from beyond the grave) and save from creative director Scott Wittman’s successful although fleeting ad campaign in 2008; little has stirred for the label that was “more known for its clothing than who wears it.”

Aquascutum tried to be all things to the modern woman who appreciated functional pieces. While Burberry continue to pave the way in style, Barbour’s quilted and more practical affair make up the numbers from outer to inner city and everywhere in between. They tried to move forward without alienating those reliant on practicality nor have they abandoned their wealthy  knowledge of tailoring and yet haven’t quite managed to attract the trend-setters, who get the brand photographed and make it desirable.

Valiant attempts were made to emulate the success of Burberry and Mulberry. Bought by Harold Tillman, the company brought in designer Joanna Sykes in May 2010 but with time her enemy, little scope was available to transform the brand in just four seasons. With much sadness and regret, it closed its famous London flagship store last year.

Now as London enters another busy year, our capital is never far from the lips thanks to a succession of city highlights and more still to come – the Jubilee and the Olympics continue to shine a light on our diverse city, it seems amiss that such a historical brand should fail to survive in a world where others are flourishing. Mulberry, Paul Smith and their closest rival Burberry are all experiencing vastly different circumstances, smitten with booming worldwide sales and celebrity led successes. 

But few celebrities of note regularly wear Aquascutum, although recent catwalks saw one direction star Harry Styles attend, alongside Brit pop star Dionne Bromfield , nothing it seems can compete with the allure Emma Watson’s creamy pallor creates against Burberrys long-standing classic. Why have Aquascutum not capitalised on fame? This unassuming nature may have been an endearing quality during the era where old Hollywood ruled, but today its humble check relies less on how elegantly poised the garment is hung and more on how effortlessly it hangs off Alexa Chung. Even conservative Kate prefers the quintessentially cool Hobbs.

Perhaps now, as is often the case, a new found appreciation will arise to bring new life back to a brand that fell foul to the times we live in. Are we really so market led that we cannot appreciate things until they are sadly no more?

When Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing took their first tentative steps up Everest, unaware of the esteem that would follow, what rugged and durable outerwear did they choose to protect themselves? Aquascutum’s highly advanced Wyncol D711 fabric protected them against the harsh conditions of sleet and snow during their history-making climb of the formidable mountain. However impressive the credentials look on paper, the king of understated British elegance has so far underwhelmed our modern day celebrity driven culture. One that says if Olivia Palermo isn’t wearing it, then why should we? Despite reaching both physical and fashion peaks, Aquascutum have (so far) failed to reach the greatest peak of all; modernisation. But still, there is hope and I for one hope this battle of the trenches seeks greater justice than the last.

Charlotte Giver

Charlotte is the founder and editor-in-chief at Your Coffee Break magazine. She studied English Literature at Fairfield University in Connecticut whilst taking evening classes in journalism at MediaBistro in NYC. She then pursued a BA degree in Public Relations at Bournemouth University in the UK. With a background working in the PR industry in Los Angeles, Barcelona and London, Charlotte then moved on to launching Your Coffee Break from the YCB HQ in London’s Covent Garden and has been running the online magazine for the past 10 years. She is a mother, an avid reader, runner and puts a bit too much effort into perfecting her morning brew.