3i seeks buyers for lingerie chain Agent Provocateur, say sources: Reuters

Private equity firm 3i has hired investment bank Rothschild to sell its troubled upmarket lingerie chain Agent Provocateur, two sources familiar with the matter said.

One source said sovereign wealth funds and high net worth individuals, as well as distressed debt specialists, had been approached about the sale of the brand, which is promoted by celebrities such as the Kardashian sisters and Alexa Chung.

The source added that 3i was considering retaining a minority stake in the business, adding that the level of interest would determine what happens next.

3i and Rothschild both declined to comment.

In November the London-listed investor said the retailer had been hit by a luxury spending slowdown. Its problems had been compounded by what 3i called the inconsistent execution of a recent store expansion programme and accounting issues.

3i, which announced the acquisition of the chain in 2007, wrote down the value of the investment by 39 million pounds in the six months ending Sept. 2016. Prior to this in March 2016, it had said the business was valued at 42 million pounds ($51.5 million).

Restructuring company AlixPartners has been working with Agent Provocateur as 3i looks at its options for the company, one of the sources said. AlixPartners declined to comment.

According to filings for the 52 weeks to March 28, 2015, profit after tax for the underwear brand, which operates in more than 30 countries, was 3.7 million pounds, down from 4.7 million pounds in the year before. Turnover rose to 61.7 million pounds from 53.1 million pounds.

Agent Provocateur was created in 1994 by Joseph Corre, son of British fashion designer Vivienne Westwood. Its manufacturing operations consist of suppliers in Britain, Asia, continental Europe and North Africa.

The company says manufacturing in Britain and Europe has declined over the last decade but it continues to use European laces, fabrics and trims where possible.