Harold Tillman: farewell to the Jaeger meister
As Harold Tillman sells a majority stake in Jaeger following a sales slump which saw profits drop two thirds last year, Luke Leitch wonders where it all went wrong.
BY Luke Leitch |
16 April 2012
Resplendent, as ever, in an immaculate suit – it grey, chalk-striped, and cut in lightweight wool – Harold Tillman shot me a smile and contentedly revealed that his latest monthly sales figures at Jaeger were much better than the retail analysts had predicted.
This was during a chance meeting only a few weeks ago, at the launch of Team GB’s new Stella McCartney Olympic kit. In his role as chairman of the British Fashion Council, he had dropped by the Tower of London press call to show his face.
Now Tillman has suddenly brought down the axe on his nine-year association with Jaeger, one of Britain’s best-known high-street brands. And, according to rumour, it still hovers uncertainly above Aquascutum, the equally venerable – and vulnerable – British “heritage brand” he acquired in 2009.
When Tillman purchased Jaeger for a token sum, it was foundering badly. Under his stewardship, and that of chief executive Belinda Earl, it recovered some of the poise that made Jaeger one of British fashion’s hottest high street names in the 1950′s, 60′s and 70′s. Unfortunately, however, the 21st Century Jaeger has been torn by competing compulsions. The first is to appeal to its core audience – older and more affluent – while the second is to pitch all out for a younger, more trend-led clientele.
Jaeger Boutique, a younger line, can hold its own against any teen to 20-something high street fashion collection, yet that audience will always browse the much more demographically-precise rails at Topshop or River Island first. And catwalk collections shown at London Fashion Week were often of a high standard, but semaphored the (inaccurate) message that Jaeger’s in-store prices were much higher than they actually are.
Perhaps that sudden, trend-bucking sales upswing he mentioned last month made now seem a good time for Tillman to bow out of Jaeger. Certainly the news, last month, that chief executive Belinda Earl had withdrawn from the business for health reasons will not have made his decision more difficult.
Whatever sliver Tillman receives of the £19.5 million that investment group Better Capital has paid for its 90 per cent stake in Jaeger is probably inadequate return for the energy he has invested in turning Jaeger around – but then, he has only partially succeeded in doing so.
Now analysts will wait to see if he sells Aquascutum too – rumour is that’s highly likely. Personally, I think it is this brand, much more than Jeager, that has the potential to grow into an international success story. After all, only one company apart from Aquascutum can claim to have invented the trench coat: Burberry.
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