Sports Direct Founder Backs Agent Provocateur Lingerie Buyer

  • Ashley-backed group to buy brand out of administration
  • 3i struggled to turn around Agent Provocateur since 2007 deal

Mike Ashley, founder of U.K. sneaker seller Sports Direct International Plc, is backing a venture that agreed to buy collapsed British lingerie brand Agent Provocateur for an undisclosed price.

Four Holdings, an investor group in which Ashley’s Sports Direct holds a 25 percent stake, is buying Agent Provocateur from private-equity firm 3i Group Plc, which has struggled to turn around the maker of bras and camisoles since buying a majority stake in it a decade ago in a deal that valued the company at 60 million pounds ($74 million).

The Ashley-backed group outbid private equity firm Lion Capital LLP, agreeing to pay 31.5 million pounds, a person familiar with the situation said. Lion declined to comment.

Agent Provocateur has been placed under administration, a process similar to bankruptcy reorganization, and will be sold to the Ashley-backed group, consulting firm Alix Partners said in a statement Thursday. Alix is managing the pre-arranged process.

At Sports Direct, Ashley has been admonished by U.K. lawmakers for working conditions at the retailer’s warehouses, while shareholders have expressed concerns about governance. 

In a financial update last month, 3i Chief Executive Officer Simon Borrows said Agent Provocateur experienced “subdued December trading.” The firm said last year that the brand was struggling with softness in spending on luxury goods. Agent Provocateur Chairman Chris Woodhouse stepped down in December.

3i previously tried to sell the lingerie brand in 2014, but that process became bogged down when no buyer was found. Agent Provocateur was founded in 1994 by Joe Corre, the son of fashion designer Vivienne Westwood and Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren, and businesswoman Serena Rees.

Sports Direct said in a statement it is “fully supportive” of the deal.

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