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Austin Reed - All Over Red Rover

post #1 of 6
Thread Starter 
Following swiftly in the footsteps of BHS, Austin Reed announced this morning that consulting firm AlixPartners have begun to seek a rescue deal for all or part of the business. It's the latest and seemingly final move in a financial battle that began when they were forced to sell their flagship store five years ago.

So, how did it all go wrong for the company that created the famous Churchillian 'siren suit.

"It's hard to define how or when Austin Reed fell so far off the style radar," says Stephen Doig, Telegraph Luxury's men's style expert. "And this is a real shame, as it could have been a great British success story in paving the way for more affordable tailoring.

"Unfortunately, Austin Reed made little of its heritage – who knew that it was over a century old? – and, at the other end of the spectrum, it also failed to explore what contemporary tailoring means in the 21st century. Instead, it seems to have been treading in rather nondescript waters, offering bland shirting and standard, corporate suits."

Austin Reed made little of its heritage, says Stephen Doig

Clothing retail analyst Nivindya Sharma believes that these uninspiring garments typified what was wrong with Austin Reed. Among the bright vibrancy of shops like Topman, the 116-year old outfitters simply became white noise on an already busy High Street.

“Austin Reed could have been a great British success story in paving the way for more affordable tailoring”

Stephen Doig

"With the Austin Reed brand, they lost relevance," says Sharma. "The core customer group, male shoppers aged above 35, seem to have moved across to mid-market department stores such as John Lewis – where the price points are almost the same.

"But, of course, the biggest mistake Austin Reed made was that they failed to recruit young shoppers. Younger men would have brought crucial sales as this is a generation entering the workforce for the first time. Men in their twenties, who spend more regularly anyway and like to update their style frequently, are not satisfied with one suit. So, had they managed to tap into this critical customer base, maybe things would have worked out differently."

In early years, the Austin Reed flagship store was frequently refurbished to stay relevant and stylish

Sharma also cites Austin Reed's stubborn traditionalism as another marketing misstep. "The stores themselves haven’t been modernised, either. Unlike competitors such as Reiss or Whistles, the shopping experience in an Austin Reed store just wasn’t stylish anymore. They merchandised their stock all wrong, putting suit jackets in one place and ties in another – everything was separate. And men no longer shop like that - modern men prefer to buy ‘looks’.

“But, of course, the biggest mistake Austin Reed made was that they failed to recruit young shoppers”

Nivindya Sharma

Austin Reed's problems extended beyond it's increasingly fusty reputation. Sharma points to the pressures of online competitors, which have made male shoppers more savvy about the the quality of their suits, and brought about bespoke services such as asuitthatfits.com.

It's a theme that men's fashion expert Hugh Francis Anderson picks up on.

"With established, 21st century tailors such as Richard James' Mayfair range offering Savile Row tailoring for under £300, and the immense growth of own-brand lines, such a John Lewis, becoming ever-popular, Austin Reed have been beaten on both price and quality at every corner in the modern market," says the features editor of style magazine JOSHUA's.

Were Austin Reed simply charging too much for their clothes?

Just across the High Street, M&S continue to fight downward sales in their menswear department, leading the company's new boss, Steve Rowe, to declare that he has made the garment market his "number one priority".

The plans were given short shrift from some industry analysts, who branded the so-called Rowe-naissance another "false dawn" for the company – but if there's one lesson M&S can learn from Austin Reed, it's that it will have to innovate if it is to prove it is cut from a superior cloth.

“Other, more successful brands of Austin Reed's ilk, even those with a solid Jermyn St heritage, are today exploring new ways to engage with the style-literate man”

Stephen Doig

"Other, more successful brands of Austin Reed's ilk, even those with a solid Jermyn St heritage, are today exploring new ways to engage with the style-literate man," says Stephen Doig.

"This may be through the introduction of narrower cuts of suits, offering innovative services (a company like Suit Supply will nip and tuck a suit for you within days, and others will offer tailoring at your office), launching exciting collaborations or establishing a fresh visual identity.

"Austin Reed is not. But I also think British men are far less inclined to dress by numbers these days - shirts and suits will always be important, but they are significantly less so in a working wardrobe today.

"Personally, I don't feel that the brand really explored alternatives to that tried and tested formula.

"All in all," Doig concludes, lamenting the loss of what was once a cutting-edge British institution, "a real shame."
post #2 of 6
An interesting epistle but the sole reason is their offer is 1980s in a fast moving world. Digital presence ? How many times have they been discussed here - not a lot.
post #3 of 6
Thread Starter 
post #4 of 6

It seems to me that as the market changed, Austin Reed et al had a dilemma: go further up-market and compete for luxury, or compete on price with the department stores. They could have gone either way, but got caught in the middle, and the middle's fallen out of the market in the UK. Some older pieces were handmade by Chester Barrie.

post #5 of 6
Reading the article, I simply can't believe how low the standard of "style experts" fell. "Savile Row tailoring for under £300" is priceless...

The only one of the trio who knows what he is speaking about is Stephen Doig.

Andrey
post #6 of 6

They should never have moved their shop in Edinburgh. I used to work in an office above it. think I single handily kept them afloat with buying knotted cuff links, when I frequently forgot to bring a pair in. saying that when I needed an emergency shirt, I went to TM Lewin.

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