Adapt or be lost in history

PUBLISHED : Friday, 18 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 18 May, 2012, 12:00am


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Last month, British brand Acquascutum announced it was bankrupt. Hong Kong company YGM Trading, which already licenses a string of labels in Asia, acquired it last week for GBP15 million (HK$187 million).

Acquascutum was bought by the Jaeger Group, under Harold Tillman, just three years ago. Along with Burberry, it is considered one of the gems of British heritage fashion. Both labels are known for quality workmanship and trench coats; both have been famous for the use of checks; and both are as British as a cup of Earl Grey.

But the Asian expansion strategies - and subsequent results - of the two historical brands could not be more contrasting.

Burberry has boasted a forward-thinking digital media strategy for years, streaming its fashion shows live and allowing online customers to buy directly off the catwalk. Acquascutum has struggled to communicate its brand to younger customers. Locally, its use of Hong Kong celebrity Sammi Cheng Sau-man in its advertising campaigns totally missed the point of it being a revered British heritage brand.

Burberry, on the other hand, opted for fresh, young British faces such as Emma Watson, Cara Delevingne, Sam Riley and Eddie Redmayne.

The loss-making Acquascutum has no high-profile creative director, whereas profit-turning Burberry is helmed by Christopher Bailey, the youthful British fashion darling who has brought new creative turns to its collections. This season it's tribal and African in flavour, inspired by Bailey's travels.

Burberry recently overtook Gucci as the world's most 'liked' fashion label on Facebook, whereas a search of Acquascutum on the social media site yields a paltry two pages, one with 95 likes and the other with just over 1,000. Social media may or may not be directly linked to a company's success, but it has become crucial to how businesses interact with younger customers.

Acquascutum dates to 1851, when John Emary established a high-end menswear store on London's Regent Street. The founder invented the first waterproof wool and dressed soldiers with his trenchcoats in both world wars. Winston Churchill was even a fan. The brand later acquired royal patronage and expanded to womenswear.

To fall from such grand heights makes its demise even more painful. The recent sale might just be enough to save yet another flagging European luxury label.