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Mike Ashley's Frasers eyes Jaeger, Austin Reed and Jacques Vert

Lauretta Roberts
25 October 2020

Mike Ashley's Frasers Group is reported to be in the running to acquire the "heritage" fashion brands, Jaeger, Austin Reed and Jacques Vert, from the struggling Edinburgh Woollen Mill Group.

Edinburgh Woollen Group is looking to sell the brands off as part of a rescue plan that will see it retain the value fashion chain Peacocks, which also owns Bonmarche, and potentially close all of its Edinburgh Woollen Mill stores.

At the end of last week the group, owned by retail tycoon Philip Day, was granted an extension of its notice to appoint administrators to give it more time to secure a deal with US hedge fund Davidson Kemper to take a stake in Peacocks and secure its future.

A number of parties are circling the heritage brands including Frasers, TM Lewin owner Torque Brands and Jaeger's former owner Harold Tillman. According to The Sunday Times, Edinburgh Woollen Mill Group has given buyers the option of bidding for the brands individually or as a group with offers to be made within the next week.

Philip Day built his Edinburgh Woollen Mill Group by buying businesses out of administration, acquiring Austin Reed in 2016, Jaeger in 2017 and Jacques Vert in 2018. The business, which employs more than 20,000 staff, has been particularly badly hit by the COVID-19 crisis since it serves a largely older customer, who is reluctant to shop in store at the moment, as well as tourists.

Ashley is said to be interested in acquiring the brands to install them into his House of Fraser department store chain, which he himself acquired out of administration in 2018. It would be the second significant acquisition of the COVID era for Ashley who acquired certain assets of DW Sports from his rival Dave Whelan in August.

He is also said to have recently renewed his interest in acquiring all or part of the distressed Debenhams chain. Ashley had attempted to take control of Debenhams towards the end of 2018 and in early 2019 but was repeatedly rebuffed by its investors, who eventually placed the business into administration last Spring and bought it out themselves, having formed a consortium called Celine.

Celine put Debenhams into administration again at the start of the first UK lockdown and is seeking a buyer as a potential exit plan. Ashley appeared to have cooled on the idea of buying the chain, having lost a near 30% stake when the formerly listed retailer was taken down last year, but reports suggest he has recently made a fresh bid.Newsletter banner

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