Retail magnate Ashley is planning a low-cost swoop at Matchesfashion

High Street billionaire Mike Ashley is in talks to buy Matchesfashion, the luxury clothing site, in a deal that would crystallize big losses for Apax Partners, its private equity backer since 2017.

Sky News has learned that Mr Ashley’s Frasers Group is in detailed talks over a deal that could see it take control of Matchesfashion – which sells fashion brands including Balenciaga, Gucci and Valentino – within days.

City sources said the Frasers were among a small number of parties that submitted offers earlier this week.

Next, run by Lord Wolfson, is also said to have expressed an interest in buying Matchesfashion.

An insider said that if it goes through, Frasers is likely to pay more than £50m for the business, which has struggled under a series of management teams before the arrival of Nick Beighton, the former ASOS boss, last year.

According to insiders, the agreement would be solvent.

Under Mr. Beighton has significantly improved the platform’s performance with a renewed focus on operational efficiency and the sharpness of its marketing.

It has nevertheless been caught up in 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 into Matchesfashion since buying the site from its founders six years ago.

Its impending cut-price sale underscores 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 UK-based fashion platform, is struggling this weekend to raise hundreds of millions of dollars to ensure its survival.

Conversations with Apollo Global Management, revealed by Sky News earlier this week, is said to have faltered, leaving his future on a knife’s edge.

High street billionaire Mike Ashley

The acquisition of Matchesfashion would provide a significant boost to Frasers’ ‘elevation’ strategy, which is now led by the company’s chief executive – and Mr Ashley’s son-in-law – Michael Murray.

Mr. Murray said at Frasers’ latest 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 latest share injection, to the value of 20 million GBP, was delivered in June, as part of a previously promised investment of 60 million. GBP.

The company also said last month that it had begun discussions with its shareholders and lenders about the renewal of an asset-backed credit facility, due next summer.

Matchesfashion began life as a single store in Wimbledon, South West London more than 30 years ago and now boasts over 100 million annual visits to its website and app.

It has more than 500 established and ‘new generation’ designers supplying 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 of a sale.

Teneo Financial Advisory advises the company on the process to secure new investments.

Mr. Beighton was appointed to replace Paolo De Cesare as Matchesfashion’s CEO, who joined the company as CEO just 10 months earlier.

The former ASOS boss’s arrival made him the fourth boss of Matches in less than three years.

In November 2021, its accounts flagged “substantial uncertainty” over its future without an improvement in its trading results.

Beighton spent more than a decade at ASOS, initially as finance director before becoming chief executive in 2015.

He helped grow the company from £178m. in revenue and 150 people when he joined, for 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.

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