Oh Jaeger. How We Love You

Monday, August 10, 2015 at 4:20 pm

hwelyJaeger is the latest British brand to enter makeover mode.

The women’s and men’s wear retailer, which is owned by Coats PLC, has embarked on a drive to reinvigorate its business. The moves include the hiring of a new creative director and design team, the appointment of Bella Freud to do an exclusive women’s collection for Jaeger, the rollout of a new store design, sponsorship of a fantastic TV show and the launch of a new ad campaign.

Jaeger — which operates 56 freestanding stores, including 27 in the U.S. — will show off the first results of its program at a fashion show for press in New York on Thursday. It held a similar show in London two weeks ago.

“The idea is to put Jaeger back on the map,” Pat Burnett, chief executive of Jaeger, said in an exclusive interview. “It’s about putting the luxury back into Jaeger, which always was a luxury brand.”

The company’s fall collection, designed by creative director Sandy Verdon and head of women’s wear design Adrian Gilbey, focuses on contemporary sportswear in lightweight Donegals and tweeds; herringbone and pinstriped wool; camelhair; cashmere and leather. Pant suits are a key look, in a masculine cut in pinstripes or with luxury trims. Other key items include Jaeger’s signature camel coats and its cashmere knitwear and mohair handknits.

“It’s about beautiful, modern classics that we hope will appeal to our existing customers, who are aged 35-plus,” Verdon said. “We then are broadening our appeal to a younger customer with Bella’s collection.”

Like Jaeger’s main line, Freud’s first collection for the company goes back to Jaeger’s archives and plays on their strength. Freud gave up her own wholesale collection to work exclusively with Jaeger. Her 90-piece collection for fall includes pinstriped pant suits with a punk edge; pale blue and heather tweed slim-fitting coats; graffiti logoed cashmere knits; zip-front knit jackets; giant dogtooth belted minis, and dark red or khaki pencil skirts with matching commando bags.

Freud’s collection will be sold in about 20 of Jaeger’s larger stores in the U.K. and the U.S. for fall.

“I wanted it to be Jaeger but with my handwriting,” Freud said. “I wanted to do things from an English point of view and what Jaeger is now, which is genuine. It’s about taking something classic and putting it with something incongruous. It’s that English subversive thing that Jaeger needs.”

The plan for fall includes the launch of Jaeger’s new ad campaign, which hearkens back to its past with the reintroduction of the company’s famous slogans from the Sixties: “This is the coat that goes with the dress” or “This is the suit that goes with the coat.” The company also will introduce a new store design by British decorator David Collins, who has worked for Victoria’s Secret in the U.S. and designer Amanda Wakeley in the U.K. The first new-look store will be a 5,000-square-foot unit in Leeds, England, which will open in September. Additional stores will follow late this year, with the new design being introduced in the U.S. next year, Burnett said.

For spring 2002, Jaeger plans to extend its relaunch to its men’s wear collection, a core part of its business, and is in talks about signing a designer to do an exclusive men’s wear line similar to Freud’s in women’s wear. It also plans to add more women’s accessories for spring 2002, including bags, scarves, belts and jewelry. The accessories will be merchandised in a separate area in the Jaeger stores, Verdon said.

The Jaeger program is the most recent of a string of relaunches by venerable British brands, which are eager to follow in the wake of the successful makeover of Burberry. Other companies attempting to reinvent themselves include the knitwear manufacturer Pringle of Scotland, the women’s and men’s wear company Daks Simpson, the jeweler Asprey & Garrard and the men’s wear brand Dunhill.

Jaeger’s image over the last decade has veered wildly between fuddy-duddy and cutting-edge, confusing its customers. Management turmoil in the late Nineties saw the departures of three chief executives and two creative directors as the brand simply drifted. Burnett, a former director at the fashion retail group Arcadia PLC, was brought into Jaeger a year ago to return the brand to its former glory.

The firm was founded by Lewis Tomalin as part of the 19th century health and hygiene movement expounded by Dr. Gustav Jaeger. His philosophy was that only animal fibers were compatible with human health. Tomalin established Dr. Jaeger’s Woolen System in London in February 1884 and such customers as George Bernard Shaw and Oscar Wilde were attracted to the company’s clothing in angora, wool, alpaca, cashmere and camel hair. In the Twenties, Jaeger invented the knitted cardigan suit and adopted men’s wear styling for women. The company’s flagship store opened on Regent Street in 1923.

The brand boomed over the successive decades and in the Sixties and Seventies had a central role in British fashion by working with such designers as Jean Muir and such fashion photographers as Norman Parkinson. But by the Eighties it was failing to attract younger customers. In the early Nineties, a new chief operating officer Fiona Harrison and creative director Jeannette Todd worked to update Jaeger’s fading image, but both left in 1997 and the management turmoil began.

Over the last year Burnett and her team have worked to readjust Jaeger’s prices by installing several price points; bolster its design team, and improve its marketing. The results already are paying off, with Coats’s fashion retail division — which includes Jaeger and Viyella — reporting a 500 percent increase in operating profits to $6.7 million on a 2.3 percent rise in sales to $212.3 million for the year ended Dec. 31, 2000. This compares with operating profits of $1 million on sales of $207.6 million a year earlier.

But Burnett recognizes Jaeger still has a long way to go. “This is a five-year time frame and we’ve not even completed one season,” she said. “It took Burberry six seasons to reestablish itself. We know the direction we’re going but this is a very first step.”

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