Has fashion lost a big champion in Harold Tillman just as the world wants Brand GB?
With his razor-sharp suits and immaculate style, Aquascutum owner Harold Tillman has come to symbolise the aspirations of the British fashion industry.
Then last week he was forced to sell his Jaeger retail business and his 160-year-old Aquascutum brand collapsed into administration, closing its factory in Corby, Northamptonshire.
However, this weekend Financial Mail can reveal that about 50 different approaches have been made for the brand, including home-grown entrepreneurs and Far Eastern businessmen.
Administrators believe the interest will almost certainly result in the sale of the label and hope to agree preliminary terms with a preferred bidder by Friday.
Though Tillman had uncharacteristically gone to ground last week, friends say he will have been heartened that the brand into which he put so much effort and millions of his own money in a doomed bid to rival Burberry, might actually live to fight another day.
Eric Musgrave, former editor of British fashion bible Drapers and author of Sharp Suits, said: ‘It is a tragedy we will regret if the Aquascutum factory is allowed to disappear. Should a buyer emerge, do not be surprised if it is a manufacturer from the Far East that recognises the opportunity.’
Musgrave said he had already seen a growing awareness of the ‘style of the English gentleman’ among Asian consumers.
Burberry, Britain’s biggest luxury label, said last week that it sold more in the Far East than it did in Europe. Leather goods label Mulberry is showing signs of following its success.
Tillman recognised where the demand was coming from but he struggled with the legacies of the business – a brand that still fails to register with young people and a need to modernise and reduce the costs of manufacturing in Britain.
The Corby factory was closed quickly last week because it is understood stock was piling up and the stricken business had no hope of selling it.
The failure of Aquascutum is all the more disappointing because Tillman knew where he should be going, unlike many manufacturers and retailers that are failing to capitalise on demand for British labels in potentially lucrative markets such as Japan, China and South Korea.
The fatal flaw of Tillman’s plan to revive Aquascutum lay in the fact that he did not have the rights to market the product in most of these lucrative Asian markets.