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Agent Provocateur being lined up for possible sale

Lauretta Roberts
02 January 2017

Luxury lingerie brand Agent Provocateur is being lined up for a possible sale by its private equity owner, according to reports.

3i has called in restructuring experts Alix Partners to work on a turnaround plan ahead of an "imminent auction" with advisers from Rothschild put on notice to handle the sale, according to The Times.

Accounting irregularities led to 3i having to write down the value of Agent Provocateur by £39m in November with some sources saying the business could be worth as little as £15m, The Times report says. An investigation has been launched by KPMG into the work of the brand's accountants PwC.

The private equity backer has recently invested a further £4m of cash in the business to help it weather the crisis, which has also led to a shake-up of its board. Non-executive chairman Chris Woodhouse stood down when the irregularities were revealed and handed responsibilities over to 3i partner Ian Lobley.

Chief executive Gary Hogarth had left the business in February last year, a move which had forced Woodhouse to take over control, while finance director Keith Wilkes departed in September.

It is believed the pool of potential purchasers will be a small one with experts in distressed businesses being the most likely candidates. In 2014 3i had attempted to offload its controlling stake, which it had bought for £60m 10 years ago from founder Joe Corré, but no buyer was found.

Corré, who is the son of Dame Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm Maclaren, founded the business with his then wife Serena Rees in 1994. The brand gained a high profile with its suitably provocative marketing campaigns featuring the likes of Kate Moss and Kylie Minogue.

He has since gone on to acquire a controlling stake in directional make-up brand Illamasqua and recently hit the headlines when he burned £5m of punk memorabilia, including some of his mother's earliest designs, in protest at the corporate highjacking of the punk movement. The "Burn Punk" campaign is being made into a documentary by Octopus TV.

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