Mar 2, 2017
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Sports Direct owner wins Agent Provocateur, founder calls deal "a disgrace"

Mar 2, 2017

Mike Ashley has won the race for high-end lingerie brand Agent Provocateur with the struggling company, which was controlled by private equity firm 3i, having entered a pre-pack administration prior to quickly being acquired for around £31m.

Agent Provocateur has been bought by Four (Holdings) Limited, a company in which Ashley's Sports Direct has a shareholding of 25%.

Agent Provocateur's co-founder is not happy about its new owner

Ashley has previously taken over brands and made major job cuts and strategy changes, preferring to own the brands rather than the operations. But reports suggested most of the UK staff and Agent provocateur’s 10 owned stores are safe.

However, it is unclear what will happen to the international stores. Ashley now owns the rights to the brand globally but has not acquired its stores outside the domestic market. There are currently stores in over 30 countries.

And Joe Corre, co-founder of Agent Provocateur, branded the deal a "disgrace to British business", suggesting there would be a " phenomenal swathe of litigation actions".

Corre, who is the son of Vivienne Westwood, said an offer of £35m was on the table from Quadro Capital along with a guarantee to "protect the brand, protect creditors and protect 650 jobs".

However, 3i said Quadro had not produced the most viable offer and that the Sports Direct deal was the best outcome for creditors, mainly Barclays bank.

The intimates specialist had run into trouble after an over-ambitious retail expansion programme failed to deliver the necessary sales rise. And the recent discovery of accounting issues at the firm seemed to be the last straw for 3i, which paid around £60m for its 80% stake a decade ago.

Reports that it was on the auction block with an asking price of around £30m were followed by suggestions that Ashley was the lead bidder, ahead of rivals such as France’s Etam and private equity firm Lion Capital.

The acquisition is part of Ashley’s strategy of moving his business upmarket as he seeks to address stalled growth and put a series of working condition scandals behind him. He already owns upscale fashion retailer Flannels.

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