Another eye-catcher, not least for the gratuitous picture opportunities it offered, was the sale of Agent Provocateur to a group led by Sports Direct tycoon Mike Ashley. But the terms of this one are ‘preposterous’, or so said the lingerie brand’s founder, Joe Corré. Well, yes — if for a horrible moment you imagine portly Ashley wearing the Provocateur product, in the way that he likes to be seen wearing the Newcastle United strip he also sells.
Ashley’s name is enough to taint any deal these days, whatever he’s wearing, but in fact the villain of this one appears to be the seller, 3i, rather than the buyer, Four Marketing, of which Ashley holds 25 per cent. 3i is a private equity firm, formerly owned by the high-street banks, that has latterly acquired what I have called ‘a shark-like reputation’. In this case it deployed a device called a ‘pre-pack administration’, an insolvency scheme that allows a failing business’s assets to be sold while leaving unpaid its debts to suppliers, banks and the taxman. ‘A phenomenal swath of litigation’ is bound to follow, growls Corré. But Ashley and his pals are just snapping up 3i’s bargain lingerie offer.
This is an extract from Martin Vander Weyer's 'Any Other Business', which appears in this week's Spectator