Mike Ashley is lining up a shock deal to buy Agent Provocateur, the upmarket lingerie brand.
Agent Provocateur is expected to enter administration on Thursday with Sports Direct the favourite to buy the business out of insolvency proceedings.
The acquisition of the brand would be the latest stage of an attempt by Ashley, the founder and chief executive of Sports Direct, to move his business empire upmarket. Alongside its core sportswear business, Sports Direct owns clothing chain Flannels and fashion brands such as Firetrap.
Sky News reported earlier this week that Ashley had risen above private equity firm Lion Capital in a bidding war.
Agent Provocateur is owned by private equity firm 3i but the brand has struggled in recent years. 3i wrote down the value of its 80% stake in the business by £39m last year to reflect its problems. Accounting irregularities were also uncovered within the business, which were investigated by KPMG.
Agent Provocateur employs around 600 people. It was co-founded in 1994 by Joe Corré, the son of Dame Vivienne Westwood, and his now former wife Serena Rees. Its first shop was in Soho, London. 3i bought the brand for an estimated £60m in 2007.
At the time, Rees said: “We have provoked thought and reaction; we brought lingerie to the forefront of fashion, brought sexuality out into the open and have given sex a sense of luxury.”
Corré and Rees were both awarded MBEs for their services to the fashion industry in 2007 but Corré rejected the award, describing the then prime minister, Tony Blair, as “morally corrupt” and not “someone capable of giving an honour”.