Kitten heel queen fashions review of LK Bennett options

(c) Sky News 2019: <a href="http://news.sky.com/story/kitten-heel-queen-fashions-review-of-lk-bennett-options-11638101">Kitten heel queen fashions review of LK Bennett options</a>
 

The founder of LK Bennett, the high street fashion retailer, has drafted in advisers to examine options for the chain nearly 18 months after regaining full control of the business.

Sky News has learnt that Linda Bennett has appointed AlixPartners to oversee a strategic review that insiders say could lead to a sale of the company later this year.

The appointment of advisers makes LK Bennett the latest in a glut of prominent high street chains to explore capital injections, refinancings or changes of control as they grapple with an increasingly hostile high street environment.

People close to the situation said a deal was not certain to take place, although they conceded there was a realistic prospect of Ms Bennett selling at least part of the company to an outside investor.

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Such a deal would not be the first time the woman dubbed "the queen of the kitten-heel" has brought in third-party investors.

In 2008, Ms Bennett sold a controlling stake to a consortium led by Phoenix Equity Partners, a private equity firm which is well-known for backing successful consumer-facing businesses.

A shareholding was also acquired by Sirius Equity Partners - another investment firm - whose principal, Robert Bensoussan, previously ran Jimmy Choo (LSE: CHOO.L - news) .

The original deal valued LK Bennett at £100m, although the company has endured a difficult time more recently, making pre-tax losses for several years.

Results for the year ended 29 July, 2017, show the business recorded an operating loss of £5.9m.

A much larger loss of £47.9m for the same period was the result of a corporate restructuring that involved writing off amounts owed by former group companies.

Ms Bennett founded the eponymous chain by opening a store in Wimbledon, southwest London, in 1990, and promised to "bring a bit of Bond Street to the high street".

She (Munich: SOQ.MU - news) stepped down following the sale to Phoenix and Sirius, but was drafted back in as a consultant in 2017.

Her return was engineered by Darren Topp, who became a prominent figure in British retailing as the executive who ran BHS following its sale by Sir Philip Green to the serial bankrupt Dominic Chappell in 2016.

Mr Topp has since left LK Bennett and now chairs a firm of retail sector headhunters.

LK Bennett trades from 200 branded outlets in the UK and overseas markets including China, Russia and the US.

Any effort to recruit new investors will come against a difficult backdrop on UK high streets.

Retailers including Hamleys and Paperchase are among those exploring auctions, while HMV was bought out of administration last week.

A series of cost pressures, including rises in business rates, and shifts in consumer behaviour have created the most volatile trading environment for the industry in many years.

The costs associated with a no-deal Brexit, including alternative supply chain routes and stockpiling of products, have also added to the financial pressures on many retailers.

A spokeswoman for LK Bennett declined to comment on Friday.