Women to watch
Kim Winser made sweaters sexy again at Pringle. Can she revitalize Aquascutum?
(Fortune Magazine) -- Kim Winser hadn't stepped inside an Aquascutum store for more than a decade when she was recruited earlier this year to transform the venerable British fashion label. Today, as Aquascutum's CEO, she raves about the brand as if it's the only label she would wear.
"People today are more elegant, and that's what we're about," says Winser, talking as she breezes around Aquascutum's flagship store on London's Regent Street, dressed all in white except for her black four-inch heels. Winser, 47, credited with overhauling the dowdy Scottish knitwear label Pringle, is a petite woman with a tall task: to make another musty old brand sparkle, to do for Aquascutum what Rose Marie Bravo did for Burberry. (Charts) If she succeeds, there could be a place for her on a future Most Powerful Women list.
Aquascutum's new owner, Kaleido Holdings, a Japanese private equity firm, brought Winser onboard in April with the goal of making the label profitable again within three years. The company, with annual sales of about $400 million, has flagship stores in London and Tokyo. Key to any turnaround will be a successful launch in the U.S., and toward that end Winser plans to open a store in New York City as early as October 2007.
The label dates back to the 1850s, when a tailor named John Emary claimed to have invented the first waterproof woolen cloth. ("Aquascutum" is Latin for "water shield.") Years later the company provided what became known as "trench coats" to World War I soldiers. The collar-up look later made a splash in Hollywood, where the coats were donned by the likes of Greta Garbo, Lauren Bacall, and Cary Grant. More recently, Aquascutum was asked to supply suits for the French actor Jean Reno, who plays a police officer in the film version of The Da Vinci Code.
Now Winser is eager to appeal to a new generation of customers with an ad campaign designed to reaffirm the brand's glamorous appeal. In an attempt to shed the company's uncool image, she has hired former James Bond star Pierce Brosnan to front a series of ads, alongside German model Julia Stegner. "I want people to think of glamour," she says, "when they think of the brand."
Not everyone is as convinced as Winser is that she can strike gold. "Aquascutum is virtually unknown in the States," says David Wolfe, creative director at the Doneger Group, a New York City fashion consulting firm. But Winser has already been successful at shaking things up at Aquascutum, and most retail analysts say she has just the right background to revitalize the label.
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