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Mike Ashley-backed Four Marketing buys Agent Provocateur

Four Marketing, the agency in which Sports Direct has a 25% stake, has acquired Agent Provocateur through a pre-pack administration deal. 

The deal completed late last night, according to one source. Four Marketing parent company Four Holdings is thought to have paid around £27.5m for the lingerie business.

Alix Partners was appointed adminstrator and immediately sold the business to Four Holdings.

Charles Perez, chief executive of Four Holdings, said the global status of the brand provided ”significant opportunities” for further growth.  

A spokesman for Sports Direct said the business is “fully supportive” of the acquisition. 

3i put Agent Provocateur up for sale in January after a period of difficult trading conditions and an accountancy error caused it to write down the value of the business by £39m in November 2016.

Fears that Agent Provocateur was heading for administration grew after restructuring firm AlixPartners was appointed as principal advisor on the sale process last month.

In the last few days, Sports Direct founder and chief executive Mike Ashley emerged as the frontrunner in negotiations with owner 3i. Other bidders reportedly included French womenswear business Etam and private equity firms including Lion Capital and Terra Firma Capital Partners.

The deal bolsters Ashley’s retail and brand portfolio, which includes stakes in French Connection, and Debenhams. He has previously said he wants to turn Sports Direct into the “Selfridges of sport”.

Agent Provocateur’s chairman, Chris Woodhouse, left his position as chairman in December amid an inquiry into an accounting error and Ian Lobley, a partner at 3i, took over.

Gary Hogarth stepped down as chief executive of Agent Provocateur in February 2016. 

In its most recent accounts for the year to 28 March 2015, Agent Provocateur’s sales rose 16% to £61.7m, but pre-tax profits fell by more than a quarter to £4.6m.

In 2007, 3i bought a £60m controlling stake in the business from Joe Corré, the son of fashion designer Dame Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren. He left the business in 2009. 

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