Archives for May 2012

Linkroll: Illustrations, Variations, Advertisements…

• Ever wondered how street-style blogging inspired comic would look like. (

• A uniform dresser. (

• Chipp advertisements ’79-’81. (

• Mad Men style: episode 7. (

• GQ Espana May 2012 editorial: Miami Vice. (

• For the bookshelf: The Gentry Man. (

• Your shoes should cost a half of your suit.  (

• Some advice on selecting fabrics. (

• American Gigolo: Armani Gere. (

• Dressing for the worst weather – hot and grey.  (

• Thoughts on retail from a thrifter’s perspective. (

• Boast USA. (

Aquascutum: The Missed Opportunity

Aquascutum missed

Aquascutum’s entry into administration has been treated with a surprising degree of alarm. Fashion reporters have called the decline of the brand a “travesty”; unions have slammed the red-button pusher Harold Tillman as ‘Aqua scum.’ However this is not the end of a brand recently thrown into financial turmoil. The reality is that Aquascutum has struggled to make a dime for years and has been declining for over a decade. The death has been one of agonising slow-motion. The writing was not only on the wall, it was fading and the wall itself gathering moss.

Despite this I still feel rather sad, as a Briton, at the demise of yet another historic British retailer. Of course, the Aquascutum story will go on. Before YGM Trading effectively agreed to purchase the stores and global brand rights a few days ago, there were more than 70 offers; scarcely surprising since 160 year old names don’t come up for sale every five minutes. Though some are disappointed to see a British brand no longer under British ownership, I have no doubt that whoever buys it will invest heavily in inventory improvement, marketing and product placement and association.

The really frustrating thing about the whole saga is how everyone compares their story to Burberry. The simplistic diagnosis is that Burberry won the rain mac war – and this resulted in ruin for Aquascutum. Well, not quite. Both companies are synonymous with rainwear and Burberry has undoubtedly been the more successful of the two companies in this regard, but Burberry did something that Aquascutum never did; Burberry went and got famous.

And not only did Burberry get famous, Burberry capitalised on its fame. When a brand becomes famous, opportunities for low cost, high revenue product lines open up. Most importantly, Burberry developed fame for the right reasons; after cutting off its rotten limbs (chav-tastic baseball caps and scarves) it delivered a clean bill of health to luxury buyers around the world. The message was serious; we’re big, we’re luxury – and you want us. Burberry became successful through fame because it marketed itself steadily as a high-end brand, with a history of producing the highest quality goods, sold in the highest quality emporiums with smart concessions and smart addresses.

Capitalising on its name came naturally for Burberry. Accessories (non-apparel) and licensed perfumes cost Burberry peanuts – and make them a fortune. Non-apparel made over £560m in revenue for Burberry in 2011 and is the highest growing product category in their inventory. Such revenues provide the support needed for elite lines such as Burberry Prorsum, which allows it to hog the limelight at high profile fashion events and maintain the exclusivity of the brand. While some of Prorsum is interesting and well-designed, most of it is fanciful (in conceit and price). But it doesn’t matter though; it’s ‘designer’, it’s Bond Street, it’s luxury and it gave Burberry the right image to expand the inventory into the traditional, line-‘em-round-the-block, money-printing areas like fragrance, belts and handbags.

Aquascutum had the basics right, a core offering and an historic product – much like Louis Vuitton – but, crucially, it did not have the right image. It was too staid, too English, not ‘designer’ – and not Bond Street. Burberry did not design the iconic mac; Burberry designed the iconic brand.

And what of it? Does the world need another Burberry? Most certainly not. Aquascutum might share some history with Burberry, but it should not focus on sharing its future. Aquascutum accessories of dubious origin languish in discount stores like the House of Hanover off Regent Street; more of the same, wherever it is made and whatever the cost, is not going to provide them with a sustainable business because people just aren’t buying it.

I don’t believe that Aquascutum should completely modernise but I think the new owners need to evaluate why it needs to exist; the best brands of today are those that people ‘want’ and elevate to the degree of ‘need.’ Apple is excellent at this and has managed to convince a huge number of people that they ‘need’ what it has to offer. Though detestable, Abercrombie & Fitch is brilliant in engendering a similar ‘need.’

To an extent, however cynical it might be, most people are in need of their “little bit of luxury”, their “day of designer.” I think that the thinkers at Aquascutum have known this for ages as the push for branding every line, using the (less) famous Aquascutum check and marketing in high-end media has been relentless – and ruinously expensive. The missing ingredient has been what Burberry almost lost in their period of association with low-end consumers, the sort of thing you’d think a brand worn by Cary Grant and Humphrey Bogart should never lack; ‘designer magic.’

Tailoring a Budget: Adjustments or Bespoke?

…I have 8 suits that I have purchased over the course of 6 or 7 years. They still ‘fit’ me and are from decent quality manufacturers but, since I have become interested in style and have read a lot of blogs about suits and how they should be worn, I think they need adjusting (narrowing shoulders, taken in at the waist, length on the trousers). I never have much spare cash and have had to save over the past two years in order to fund these adjustments.

However, I have now saved about £1,500 and am wondering whether I should make such a substantial investment in adjusting off the rack suits or whether I should buy a bespoke suit from a City tailor? I would love to own one but do not want to waste the suits I have already bought.

It is very pleasing to see that readers, particularly those with little to spend on dress, are taking personal style and standards so seriously. The common view is that most people save for very few things except old age, a deposit on a mortgage or a ‘rainy day’ – whatever that may be. The last thing one expects the average person to be saving for is a collection of better-fitting suits; so careless has the populace become in dress that being able to look halfway decent is dismissed as the hobby of a millionaire dilettante.

My blog was forged on the fires of resistance to this commonly held belief; that you had to be rich to dress well. Something I, to my great shame, used to believe. The real problem is that people do not prioritise dress in the same way, and certainly not as they used to. This warming enquiry provides a glimmer of hope for the future; caring enough about your outward appearance to save money in order to improve it should be applauded.

When it came to the central quandary, my first thought was of Genesis; “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat…” Bespoke can become addictive, and addictions are expensive, and a gentleman can often indulge in gleeful proclamations: “I’ll never buy off-the-rack again!”, “Only bespoke from now on!” and “I can’t believe I didn’t start sooner!” which are often followed by dark clouds of concern that their prospective wardrobe costs just smashed through the ceiling.

Even if our reader allowed £100 per suit for adjustments, which should be ample for the adjustments required, it would cost £800 to correct decent off-the-rack suits to something considerably better for his frame. This would leave £700 to put towards something else, perhaps even a bespoke suit.

An alternative is to sell the 8 suits and add the cash collected from this to the bespoke war chest. However, unless the brand of suits being sold are very high end, not to mention being in very good condition, they are unlikely to yield much return in a sale – certainly not enough to buy 8 bespoke suits.

My advice would be to keep the off-the-rack suits that are particularly special and get them adjusted. Those that have less personal appeal should indeed be sold and the proceeds added to a fund for bespoke – the forbidden fruit must be tasted. For a man of limited funds, weaker willpower and given to fancy, bespoke can demolish his delight in the simple and mundane, not to mention his living standards and future prospects. However, a man so determined to dress for the job he wants and not the job he has, to save for the future and invest in himself is more than capable of coping with the sweetly enslaving pleasure of having his clothes made for him.