Trench Warfare: Burberry Rises as Aquascutum Goes Bankrupt

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Since the 1850s, two venerable brands associated with the famous British trench coat, Aquascutum and Burberry, have managed to keep pace. But now “A” has given way to “B”: Aquascutum, whose clothing was once worn by the likes of Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher, has filed for bankruptcy, even as Burberry’s star continues to rise.

At one time, Aquascutum — the name was derived from the Latin words for “water shield” — was a storied brand. While the company’s claim that it invented the trench coat is disputed by Burberry, Aquascutum coats clothed British soldiers in the trenches of the Crimean war and World War I. Explorer Edmund Hillary and sherpa Tenzing Norgay sported Aquascutum fabrics during their trek up Mt. Everest in 1953. The 1994 and 1996 British Olympic teams wore uniforms made by the company. King Edward VII, as well as actors Humphrey Bogart, Greta Garbo, Cary Grant, Sophia Loren, and Peter Sellers, all wore its clothing, according to Aquascutum.

But that was in bygone days. Of late, the brand simply could not be competitive. According to a company statement, “The senior management team have worked tirelessly to develop and build the Aquascutum brand. The challenging conditions in the U.K., however, have unfortunately meant that the team have been unable to successfully turn the business around which has ultimately resulted in its administration.” (Administration is the British form of bankruptcy.)[more]

Interestingly, both Aquascutum’s and Burberry’s fate seem to have been tied to Asia, but in starkly different ways. Burberry has enjoyed relevancy and success in the Chinese market, for example. Burberry recently reported that its Asia-Pacific sales increased 37 percent in the second half of 2011, after remarkably strong sales that increased 70 percent in 2010 from the year before. Burberry CFO Stacey Cartright said on April 17, “Asia is hugely important… China is now ten percent of our retail and wholesale market and we expect it to continue to gain share and become one of the biggest markets.”

Aquascutum, on the other hand, sold a license for markets across Asia in 2009 to YGM Trading, a Hong Kong company, that never quite paid off. As a result, the firm depended more on U.K.-based sales, and a faltering Western economy did them no good. YGM Trading is now considering the possible acquisition of additional rights to Aquascutum outside of Asia, a deal that could help the troubled brand. But that’s a long-shot.

On et another crucial frontier — digital — Burberry has also been the clear winner, from its Burberry World social hub to the earlier user-generated photo site, The Art of the Trench.

So it’s one up and one down for two renowned Brit brands… one of which may have worn out its welcome.

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