Aquascutum are tailors
located in London
, with their Flagship
store on Regent Street
in central London
. They are an old and internationally recognised leader in fashion, best known for their traditional raincoats
They are an extremely 'old boy'-ish institution, like Gieves and Hawkes, Burberry and Huntsman, and have been around for a long time - since 1851 to be precise.
Let's go back a bit. In 1851, John Emary opened a gentlemen's tailors at 46-48 Regent Street, and was granted the patent for a 'shower proofing wool fabric' which was used to make raincoats. the name (pretty obviously) comes from the Latin (Oh, how would I have survived without my Latin GCSE? Thank you A*):
'Aqua' meaning water and 'scutum' meaning (or a form of - I've forgotten the difference between nominative and accusative tenses. I don't think I ever knew it, come to think of it...) shield. Then, 3 years later, Emary began to supply Aquascutum coats to British troops fighting the Crimean war; the Russian temperatures were extremely low and rain copious.
A popular anecdote says that a certain Captain Goodlake, along with his troops, was separated from the bulk of the forces, but was protected. His Aquascutum coat was gray, and so he was thought to be a Russian soldier, and avoided the attention of the enemy - the coats saved the lives of all the men.
Yes, I know that's a crap anecdote; it's the best I could do.
In 1890 Aquascutum moved from 46-48 Regent Sreet to 100 Regent Sreet - its present site and flagship store. In 1897 (some time after Gieves and Hawkes, who would later become rivals) Aquascutum was granted its first Royal Warrant by King Edward VII, and and 12 years later the first factory opened in Northamptonshire: the factory still produces trench coats to this day.
George V granted another Royal Warrant to Aquascutum in 1911, and during the war in 1915 they supplied waterproof trenchcoats to British soldiers (trivia: why do you think they were called trench coats? The straps are legacies of the days when troops would hang grenades on them - someone should really mention the trenchcoats' wartime history in the relevant node).
Astonishingly, only in 1918 did the trenchcoats go on sale to civilians.
In the 1920s Aquascutum's reputation began to grow and consequentially, they soon received yet another Royal Warrant; this time from the Prince of Wales. This one was especially interesting because the Prince of Wales at the time later went on to become King Edward VIII, and then the Duke of Windsor: an international style icon. In 1927 the Abrahams family acquired the company.
The coming decades were interesting for Aquascutum: Aquascutum provided uniforms and coats throughout World War II, and in 1946 the VE day parade passed in front of the shop on Regent Street, where earlier a German bomb had exploded.
Aquascutum opened New York offices in 1948, which were located in the Empire State Building (can anyone tell me if they're still there?).
The company added to their already impressive collection of Royal Warrants in 1949 when Queen Elizabeth granted them another one.
A defining image of the 1940s was Winston Churchill smoking his cigar - what many don't know is that his famous raincoat was from Aquascutum. I think there is a picture of him wearing it in Aquascutum's Regent Street shop.
Aquascutum celebrated its centenary in 1951, and an year later Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother granted the company its 5th Royal Warrant.
Another defining moment for the tailors came in 1953 when Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay conquered Everest wearing a type of 'D711' fabric that had been designed by Aquascutum.
In 1957 Aquascutum took over the adjoining premises (on Regent Street) as far as 92 Regent Street, which allowed it to enlarge its store and increase its prestige. It also gave it some clout when competing with the adjoining Savile Row. In 1959 a new store was opened, which bought a huge amount of media attention. Celebrities, fashion icons and politicians from all over the world attended.
In the 1960s Aquascutum enlarged operations, expanding, like many venerable British tailors, to Japan and increased the size of its Flagship store. In 1972 a Montreal branch was opened in Canada, and Peter Sellers, as Inspector Clouseau in The Pink Panther wore an Aquascutum coat on screen.
In the 1980s shops were opened in the USA, Canada, France and all over the Far East, and during the 80s the company sponsored many sporting events, particularly British ones.
In 1990 the company was aquired by Renown Incorporated, and 5 years later it sponsored the London film festival.
A year after that it provided official British Olympic uniforms during the Olympics in Atlanta, USA.
In 2001 Aquascutum celebrated 150 years in the business.
So what now? Well, I think all British tailors have taken a hammering as style has changed. Ever since the 1960s things like suits, windsor knots and semiformal wear declined in popularity, and then in the 1990s came the shock: casual day. Aquascutum is not suited to this generation, but some of its suits and coats are fantastic garments.
My only complaint would be that its suits lack a proper structure, with little pull around the waist. In terms of fit, Austin Reed and Gieves and Hawkes make better suits; there's no denying that. But then again, Aquascutum aren't about suits. They're about coats. Their coats are only rivalled by Burberry coats, and now I have to say, with the advent of 'the Burberry check' and the total commercialisation of Burberry, Aquascutum have retained that traditionality and come out on top. Burberry is a bit too tacky and nouveau riche for my liking.
It may not be what you're used to, but there is a real style to Aquascutum. It's for all those who aspire to dress like the Duke of Windsor, and long for an age of fashion that has passed, and may never come again - an age where men wore smoking jackets, and drank port and smoked cigars after the ladies had left the room. An age where a spread collar and a four-in-hand tie knot was about as daring as you could get.