Flicking through the online catalogue on the Edinburgh Woollen Mill website is a lot like pushing aside laden coat hangars in your gran’s wardrobe trying, increasingly desperately, to find the door at the back to return to the 21st century.
The store still brazenly markets tweed, wool and a line they call ‘heritage’ which, when applied to tomatoes in Waitrose, means expensive, colourful and interesting, but the headless manikins of ‘the Mill’ who sport these items just look sad and a little embarrassed. With some high street stores there’s a poignancy to the wooden boarding tacked to the window frames of its outlets; with the Mill it will be almost a blessing.
But are we being harsh? One of the reasons given for the fall of the Mill is the paucity of tourists flocking around tweed and one-ply cashmere laid out in its shelves, keen to buy a slice of Olde Britain as authentic as miniature shiny red London telephone boxes and Kendal Mint Cake, which we are all munching on, aren’t we, as we prepare to repel the Romans?
The NTI newsroom told you a little about Brian Day, owner of brands that include Jaeger, Peacocks and Edinburgh Woollen Mill, a couple of weeks ago when FRP were doing what their name tells us they do best and advising on the prospective fall of a by-gone empire. Brian, who now answers to the adjective ‘billionaire’, grew up on a council estate in Stockport and now is sensible enough to live in Dubai. There is no real news to the hideous financial position his group of throwback stores finds itself in, but the numbers are quite shocking.
There are 21,500 jobs at stake as FRP Advisory sharpen their pencils and look up the mothballs in their great-aunt Rita’s house, as notice to appoint Administrators was filed yesterday, Friday 9 October. Edinburgh Woollen Mill said the move would give it an initial ten days’ breathing space to assess its options, the chief of which must be to invent a time machine and return to the time its offerings were fashionable.
Industry sources said the group was particularly vulnerable as it has hundreds of shops that largely cater to older shoppers, who have been avoiding the high street and staying at home. The group said it had received expressions of interest for some of its brands, but this may well have amounted to:
”Them? Really?” There’s no way of telling.
In a related story, the Bangladesh Garment Manufactures and Exporters Association had claimed that the group had £27 million of unpaid bills with suppliers, which the retailer denied. But it does kind of fit, doesn’t it? Just like the Mill’s mid beige adjustable waist mid-front chino, the kind of bargain that gets Japanese tourists salivating, if only they were allowed to visit us.