Retailers considering crunch by the London catwalks

Wed Sep 17, 2008 1:37pm EDT
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By Paul Casciato

LONDON (Reuters) - The catwalks are humming and buyers are still trawling the stands at London Fashion Week, but behind the scenes luxury clothing retailers are considering the knock-on effects of a global financial crisis.

President and CEO of Aquascutum Kim Winser told Reuters an economic downturn resulting from the credit crunch -- which claimed major global investment bank Lehman Brothers this week -- could split the retail market.

"I think at the top end it's continuing to do well so long as the product is strong enough and it's interesting enough," Winser said after Aquascutum's show on Tuesday, where white, delphinium blue, lightweight silk and patchwork wafted down the catwalk.

"I think at the bottom end probably business is going to do quite well because some people are going to be in a very difficult situation. Probably the middle is going to hurt a great deal."

Winser is in the midst of a five-year turnaround strategy for the 155-year-old British brand, owned by Japanese apparel maker Renown, which includes deals with luxury U.S. retailers Bloomingdale's, Saks and Bergdorf Goodman as well as markets in Russia and the Middle East.

High-end British luxury retailers such as Aquascutum, privately owned Jaeger and publicly traded Burberry are banking on their heritage, alluring collections and international clientele to keep sales buoyant.

"We're not immune because we've got 70-odd shops across the UK," Jaeger Chief Executive Belinda Earl told Reuters after a show that tapped its 124-year-old archives with a display of color and prints mixing floaty pieces with tailoring.

"But we do know that when the customer loves something, as we've seen with our autumn collection, she is wanting it."   Continued...