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TM Lewin owner Torque eyes Jaeger and Austin Reed

Lauretta Roberts
21 October 2020

TM Lewin owner Torque Brands is reported to be eyeing a potential acquisition of British heritage fashion brands Jaeger and Austin Reed.

Jaeger is part of retail tycoon Philip Day's Edinburgh Woollen Mill Group (EWM), which is in the process of trying to secure a rescue deal.

EWM also owns value fashion chains Peacocks and Bonmarche and is in talks with US hedge fund Davidson Kemper about taking a minority stake as part of a rescue deal. Its remaining brands, Jaeger, Austin Reed and Jacques Vert, are likely to be sold off separately. 

Torque is a new acquisition vehicle headed by Simba Sleep co-founder James Cox and backed by former Asda boss Allan Leighton. It acquired shirtmaker TM Lewin from private equity house Bain in May, but placed the business into administration in June, buying it back out again and announcing the closure of all 66 of its stores.

When it first acquired TM Lewin, Torque, which was set up by private equity house SCP, said it had ambitions to build a portfolio of British heritage fashion brands, served by one central services platform. Its interest in Jaeger, which was first reported by Sky News, is therefore logical.

Jaeger's former owner, the retail entrepreneur Harold Tillman has also been named as a potential suitor for the business.

EWM revealed in September that it had received unsolicited approaches for its heritage brands, including from a Chinese investor. The group acquired Jaeger out of administration in 2017. Prior to that Jaeger had been owned by Jon Moulton's Better Capital and before than Harold Tillman.

The group has given notice of its intention to appoint an administrator, FRP Advisory, and has until tomorrow to secure its rescue deal, which is likely to result in the closure of the Edinburgh Woollen Mill chain. It seems likely the business will apply for an extension to this notice period to give it time to finalise the deal.

Jaeger - a timeline of a British heritage brand

1884 Established by British businessman Lewis Tomalin as “Dr Jaeger’s Sanitary Woollen System Co Ltd” specialising in wool-jersey long johns

1910 Receives a Royal Warrant and begins creating woollen suits

1919 Launches the first Camel Hair Coat

1935 Opens its flagship store at 200-206 Regent Street

1950s Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn both appear in ads for the brand

1956 Designer Jean Muir joins the company and is put in charge of the Young Jaeger brand and is credited with attracting a more youthful audience

1962 Jean “The Shrimp” Shrimpton models for the brand in images shot by David Bailey

1967 Coats Viyella acquires the brand

1980s Brand falls out of favour in face of European rivals entering the UK market

1996 Brand enjoys a resurgence, wins a British Fashion Award under the direction of designer Jeanette Todd

2000 Bella Freud appointed as designer; she stays for 2.5 years

2003 Coats sells the brand to entrepreneur Richard Thompson who quickly sells it on to Harold Tillman

2004 Belinda Earl, formerly of Debenhams, is appointed CEO

2005 Tillman acquires Allders department store in Croydon

2008 Stuart Stockdale is appointed as creative director of Jaeger; Jaeger returns to London Fashion Week

2009 Tillman’s Jaeger team acquires Aquascutum (the heritage brand founded in 1851) from Renown

2012 Tillman sells his Jaeger shares to Better Capital, owned by Jon Moulton. Acquascutum falls into administration and is subsequently bought by its Asia licensee YGM Trading. Allders of Croydon placed into administration and subsequently ceases trading

2013 Colin Henry, formerly of Esprit, appointed Jaeger CEO; creative directors Jsen Wintle (menswear) and Sheila McKain-Waid (womenswear) also appointed

2015 Colin Henry departs and Jaeger announces sale of Regent Street flagship. Alix Partners reviews its future

2017 Better Capital sells Jaeger's debt to Edinburgh Woollen Mill, then places the business into administration. EWM buys it out of administration

2020 EWM receives several approaches to buy the brand as it races to save its own future

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