Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Heritage brands raise their game

It seems that something good is coming out of the recession for the luxury heritage brands of Britain. Whereas for decades the likes of Burberry, Aquascutum and Barbour were quite happy to pedal out the same tired old macs and wax jackets, with no discernable reason for anyone other than the elderly or farmers to buy them, the recession has sharpened their claws, made them hungry for a new generation of customer.

We've had a succession of frankly groundbreaking announcements from the higher echelon of this fair country's clothing brands over the past couple of years. Who would have imagined that Barbour would collaborate with a Japanese designer, or that Dunhill, once a stuffy old label better known for its cigarretes, would employ Jude Law as its masthead and Kim Jones as creative director?

The momentum is gathering pace too, and has even moved up to the corporate side of things. Earlier this week, Burberry made it into the FTSE 100, thanks in no small part to an insatiable Japanese appetite for its trademark house check and the need of every tourist who visits London to go home with a Burberry trenchcoat. The arrival of creative director Christopher Bailey has also helped bring the brand back up to date.

Then yesterday it was announced that Burberry rival Aquascutum has been saved from impending doom by fashion entrepreneur Harold Tillman, who has bought the company from its Japanese owners. To complete the hat-trick Cheaney, a Northamptonshire shoemaker which had been under the Church's umbrella, has been bought from Prada by Church's founders William and Jonathan Church.

But the real progress is being made with the products.

Over at Dunhill, Mr Jones wasted no time in digging out the brand's archives and resurrecting some of the key pieces with added tweaks for the autumn/winter collection, his first at the brand.

The Barbour Beacon heritage line is a welcome departure from the traditional line. The label, whose jackets are the required uniform of the country set and anyone with a horse, has launched a capsule line of driving, cycling and motorcycle jackets with Japanese designer Tokihito Yoshida. On top of that the brand has opened a Heritage shop just off Carnaby Street.

Belstaff is leaps and bounds ahead. It was taken into Italian ownership a few years ago and the brand has since dragged itself out of the greasy biker pits into which it had fallen, to become the darling of the euro-set, although it didn't do itslf many favours by sponsoring Ewan MacGregor's jolly round the world on a bike. No collaborations in sight for Belstaff yet though.

This whole collaboration and guest designer business is something the luxury street brands of Japan have been doing for years. It didn't take long for Nike and Adidas to get in on the act and now it seems to be the done thing to refresh a tired brand. A bit like getting a makeover.

It certainly seems to have done the trick.

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