Sports Direct's Mike Ashley has tabled a £27.5m bid to acquire the troubled upmarket lingerie brand Agent Provocateur.
The label's majority shareholder, the private equity group 3i, has been seeking bids on the business as it looks to exit 10 years after paying £60m for its 80% stake. It was forced to write down its investment by £39m and inject further cash into the business last autumn after accounting irregularities were revealed and it was hit by tough trading.
In January it was revealed that restructuring expert Alix Partners had been appointed to work on an turnaround plan ahead of an imminent auction of the business to be handled by Rothschild. A previous attempt to sell the business in 2014 had been abandoned after no buyer was found.
According to The Times, Ashley's Sports Direct is now believed to be up against French retailer Etam and private equity businesses Lion Capital and Terra Firma Capital Partners in the race to acquire Agent Provocateur, which was established in 1994 by Joe Corré, who is the son of Dame Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm Maclaren, and his then wife Serena Rees. 3i had been hoping to secure bids in excess of £30m to cover the brand's financial liabilities.
If successful Ashley will, apparently, retain the brand's 11 UK stores (it is available in about 100 stores worldwide and on its website) and sell it in his Sports Direct USC fashion stores as part of a move to take them more upmarket.
The retail entrepreneur was also recently revealed to have been behind a purchase of an 11% stake in fashion retailer French Connection, which is currently the subject of a pressure campaign by activist shareholders to force its founder, chairman and CEO Stephen Marks to make significant changes to its strategy and split his role in a bid to reverse its fortunes.