The high street billionaire Mike Ashley is in talks to buy Matchesfashion, the luxury clothing site, in a deal that would crystallise heavy losses for Apax Partners, its private equity backer since 2017.
Sky News has learnt that Mr Ashley’s Frasers Group is in detailed negotiations about a deal that could see it take control of Matchesfashion – which sells fashion brands including Balenciaga, Gucci and Valentino – within days.
City sources said that Frasers was among a small number of parties who submitted offers earlier this week.
Next, run by Lord Wolfson, is also said to have expressed an interest in buying Matchesfashion.
One insider said that if completed, Frasers was likely to pay in excess of £50m for the business, which has struggled under a succession of leadership teams prior to the arrival of Nick Beighton, the former ASOS chief, last year.
The deal would be a solvent one, according to insiders.
Under Mr Beighton, the platform’s performance has improved markedly with a renewed focus on operational efficiency and the sharpness of its marketing.
It has, nevertheless, been caught out by the sharp slowdown in global luxury goods sales which is affecting retailers across the sector.
Apax is said to have invested as much as £600m of its investors’ money in Matchesfashion since buying the site from its founders six years ago.
Its impending cut-price sale underlines the severe pain being felt in the industry, just three years after many luxury retailers saw sales and company valuations boom during the pandemic.
Farfetch, the New York-listed but British-based fashion platform, is this weekend scrambling to raise hundreds of millions of dollars to secure its survival.
Talks with Apollo Global Management, revealed by Sky News earlier this week, are said to have faltered, leaving its future on a knife-edge.
The takeover of Matchesfashion would deliver a significant boost to Frasers’ ‘elevation’ strategy, which is now spearheaded by the company’s chief executive – and Mr Ashley’s son-in-law – Michael Murray.
Mr Murray said at Frasers’ most recent results presentation that the strategy, which is partly being implemented through its Flannels brand, is paying off.
For Apax, the ownership of Matchesfashion has been a disaster.
Its most recent equity injection, worth £20m, was delivered in June, as part of a previously pledged £60m investment.
The company also said last month that it had started discussions with its shareholder and lenders about the renewal of an asset-backed lending facility due next summer.
Matchesfashion began life as a single shop in Wimbledon, southwest London, more than 30 years ago and now boasts over 100 million annual visits to its website and app.
It features more than 500 established and ‘new generation’ designers, delivering to over 170 countries.
A syndicate of lenders led by a KKR credit fund is said to be first in line to receive the proceeds from a sale.
Teneo Financial Advisory is advising the company on the process to secure new investment.
Mr Beighton was drafted in to replace Paolo De Cesare as Matchesfashion’s chief executive, who joined the company as chief executive just 10 months earlier.
The former ASOS chief’s arrival made him the fourth boss of Matches in less than three years.
In November 2021, its accounts flagged “material uncertainty” over its future without an improvement in its trading performance.
Mr Beighton spent more than a decade at ASOS, initially as chief financial officer, before becoming CEO in 2015.
He helped grow the company from £178m in revenue and 150 people when he joined, to sales of £3.9bn and a workforce of 15,000, including warehouse staff, when he left.
Apax, Matchesfashion, Frasers and Next all declined to comment.