Fair play to Aquascutum. It’s been worn and adored by the Royal Family, Winston Churchill, Margaret Thatcher, James Bond, gangsters, coked-up football hooligans, and now, as of today, Supreme kids. It’s a brand riddled with class and identity issues, it’s been rich and it’s been poor. It’s a pioneer gone awry — in essence, it’s the quintessential British label. Now it’s back for a collaboration with the modern streetwear world’s biggest player, and here’s why it’s a must cop.
First, here’s a little history (it’s important to understand before we get into the bloodstained scarves of the hooligans – so stick with it). Aquascutum was founded in Mayfair, London in 1851 by a fella called John Emary. Five years later Thomas Burberry launches Burberry and inadvertently creates what will become one of British fashion’s greatest rivalries. Burberry now dwarfs Aquascutum in terms of hype, output, creativity and pretty much everything else on which a fashion house is judged, but this wasn’t always the case.
In 1853, Aquascutum (latin for watershield, FYI) was the first label to create and patent waterproof wool, and because of that its coats were used by officers in the Crimean War and soldiers of all ranks in the two subsequent World Wars. Burberry followed suit in 1880 when it introduced gabardine, a “hardwearing, water-resistant yet breathable” fabric, but by then Aquascutum had sewed itself tightly into the fabric of the upper-middle class British establishment.
After the war, Aquascutum adapted its military trench coat for civilian wardrobes and began selling it as a beige “mac.” It came with with five rows of brown buttons, buckled sleeves, storm flaps, a belt, and a checked lining. It sounds awfully familiar because it’s the exact same mac that now forms the backbone of every single Burberry FW collection. Both brands dispute who came up with it first, but back then it didn’t matter — Burberry were but a fly in Churchill’s whiskey glass.
After that, Aquascutum’s trench coats were worn by royalty, political leaders and celebrities ranging from three Princes of Wales, the aforementioned Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher to Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall and Michael Caine. Thatcher’s entire look was defined by Aquascutum suits and coats as she power-dressed her way around the world terrorizing other leaders and destroying working class communities. Then, it was undoubtedly the brand of the right wing and the moneyed — which begs the question, how the fuck has it come to be collaborating with Supreme and it’s skater punk ideals?
Just like many brands in the late ’80s, early ’90s, Aquascutum followed Burberry in using ostentatious branding, not just tight designs, to make their mark on the runways. Whereas Moschino and Gucci plastered their names everywhere, Aquascutum and Burberry coated everything in their house checks — the latter’s a pale tartan with wide squares, the former’s smaller with deeper colors of brown and deep blue. This move came at a price.
By the mid-1990s, Aquascutum gear was being worn by an altogether different crowd. Football hooligans, or “casuals” to give the subculture its proper name, were wearing the brand’s macs, shirts, caps and scarves to look smart and stylish at the game, and sometimes fight opposition fans.
The reason for wearing expensive clothing to get bloodied-up in seems odd and hard to explain to most people outside of the culture itself (you can read about more about that here) but the effect of it was that it re-appropriated the brand for the working classes. All of a sudden when your average Brit saw somebody wearing an aquascutum scarf, they were far more likely to think they were a thug or a wrong ‘un than an upstanding, high-class member of society. And Aquascutum didn’t know how to deal with that.
Aquascutum wasn’t alone, though: Stone Island, C.P. Company, Prada, Maharishi, Henri Lloyd, and many others were all were no doubt watching the newsreels of hooligan arrests both in England and abroad, rueing their bad luck as their brands were throw into the muck. Just like FILA, Kappa, Benneton, Lacoste and others had in the centuries before them.
Burberry was also struggling to come to terms with its new image. It wasn’t quite as popular on the terraces as Aquascutum, but it was still there. Something about its luxury, showy appeal meant scarfs and accessories were suddenly in vogue among everyday people — often counterfeits. This reached its pinnacle in 2003 when former soap star Daniella Westbrook and her daughter stepped out head to toe in Burberry nova check.
“It was associated with people who did bad stuff, who went wild on the terraces,” Peter York, management consultant and author of books on the subject of class and fashion, told the BBC. “Quite a lot of people thought that Burberry would be worn by the person who mugged them.” The Daily Mail said it sounded the death knell for the company’s credibility. They got the wrong brand.
Burberry were self-assured, it removed the checked baseball caps from sale and reduced the visibility of their distinctive pattern. It focused its efforts on Asia, China in particular. It took a holiday and came back stronger.
Aquascutum, on the other hand, went bust. When the brand became known outside of the football casuals culture, it became a dirty brand. It fell out of favor with not just the fashion industry, but with middle class Britons looking to distance themselves from the “thugs” and the working classes. It continued to churn out the same kind of product and sales declined, eventually it entered administration in 2012.
But today Aquascutum is back on the main stage. Its collaborative collection with Supreme marks a new era. It follows and takes advantage of what fashion publications have dubbed the “nu lad” or “new Casual” movement – as our man Aleks Eror put it, “a shift away from the normcore and hipster trends of the ’00s back towards the loud, proud, lager-swilling days of the 1980s and ’90s.” Essentially, it’s all the clothes and nostalgia, without any of the blood, violence and rough and tumble.
It appears to be the first time the brand has truly understood its place in fashion culture — and that’s just as much about football casuals as it is about the Royals and Margaret Thatcher, no matter how much it’s protested that in the past. If you purchase something from the drop today, you are, knowingly or unknowingly, aligning yourself with a piece of very British culture. Not the kind of bullshit, tea-sipping, “Keep Calm and Carry On,” Cath Kidston bedspread British culture, but a true representation of a nation shattered by wars and class, one obsessed with style and tribal loyalties — and that’s fucking cool.
The Supreme x Aquascutum collaboration is set for release later today (October 13) at Supreme stores and online, as well Aquascutum’s Great Marlborough Street, London location and web store. You can read more about how terracewear went mainstream here.
- Main & Featured Image: Supreme