Aging European Brands Find Second Life in China

on October 3 2011 | in Fashion Retail Trends | by | with No Comments

Aquascutum-2

Aquascutum was founded in 1851. Its trench coats were commissioned for officers in the Crimean and both World Wars. In the 1950’s and 60’s, movie stars clamored for their chic appeal. In the ‘70s, the brand flopped. In 2009, Hong Kong’s YGM Trading Ltd. secured the rights to the brand, and now 59 Acquascutum outlets in mainland China and 32 in Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan are swarming.

The rising Chinese middle-class, driven by its strong conscious for status, is gobbling up exhausted European brands re-imagined for their rich histories and royal connections.

“Chinese are a lot more brand driven than other countries, and also they have rapidly increasing income but their brand product knowledge is sort of behind their spending power. That creates an interesting opportunity,” said Vincent Lui, a Hong Kong-based partner at Boston Consulting Group. Buying up forgotten second- or third-tier brands from Europe and marketing them to China works, Lui says, because,  “You try to rejuvenate it here — it’s kind of hard to rejuvenate it somewhere else. Here you’re starting with a blank sheet of paper.”

Perhaps no one is more successfully executing this strategy than Hong Kong’s Trinity Ltd., which now owns or licenses British and Italian mensware labels like Kent & Curwen, the Savile Row tailor Gieves & Hawkes, and Cerrutti 1881. Trinity now has about 330 stores in mainland China under its labels. The company plans to open 50 more stores by the end of the year and that’s no surprise: last month, Trinity reported that first-half profit rose 63 percent, to Hong Kong dollars 240.1 million, or $31 million.

“In Asian markets, what were finding is that there’s a real respect for the gravitas and depth of a brand because everything else here is vibrant and brash and new and exciting, and that’s great but it means there’s a premium on history and authenticity if you can make it relevant,” said Andrew Harrison, the Brand Cellar’s global brand director. Since 2009, the Brand Cellar has bought 10 mostly British brands. Seven of them are 100 years old or older. The company’s chief executive is now based in Hong Kong.

Sunny Wong, Kent & Curwen’s group managing director, also sees the appeal of these “timeless” brands: “It’s very common to find customers walking into a shop and spending a long time in the shop not only trying on clothing they like but asking, ‘What is this brand?’ There’s a big curiosity in why a brand can be so active over 200 years or more.”

“It’s really propagating the story that these brands have strong heritage, long history and the Chinese customers believe in it,” Wong adds.

photo credit: aquascutum

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