Mike Ashley’s retail empire is in advanced talks to take over Gieves & Hawkes, one of London’s oldest bespoke tailors on Savile Row.
Frasers Group, of which Ashley is majority owner, is in talks to buy the brand, which was put up for sale earlier this year after the collapse of its Hong Kong-based owner.
The talks are at an advanced stage, but formal agreement has not yet been reached. The negotiations were first reported by Sky News.
The future of Gieves & Hawkes has been in doubt since its owner, the Hong Kong-based Trinity, was put into administration in December 2021. Savile Row tailors have struggled in recent years with the shift away from custom-made suits towards more casual work wear, a trend exacerbated by lockdowns during the coronavirus pandemic.
The broader fashion retail sector has also struggled in recent years, but Ashley has picked up a series of companies through his Frasers Group, the owner of the sportswear chain Sports Direct. Recent acquisitions include stakes in the clothing website Asos and the German fashion house Hugo Boss, as well as the online fast fashion brands I Saw It First and Missguided.
Unlike those fast-growing online businesses, Gieves & Hawkes traces its history back to two of the oldest companies in the UK: Gieves, founded in 1785 and Hawkes, founded in 1771. Gieves was a supplier to the Royal Navy and Hawkes to the army, according to its company history. In 1974 Gieves acquired Hawkes and the company moved to 1 Savile Row, a Georgian townhouse in London’s Mayfair district.
Gieves and Hawkes companies have held royal warrants since 1809, and have dressed King Charles III, George VI and George V, as well as the royal princes William and Harry. It also dressed Admiral Lord Nelson, the Duke of Wellington and Winston Churchill.
However, despite its association with British royalty and aristocracy, the company has been under foreign ownership for two decades. It was bought in 2002 by a Hong Kong group and has since changed hands several times.
Its most recent owner was Trinity, a tailor founded in the 1960s in Hong Kong. Trinity took over in 2012, and was itself bought by the Chinese fashion conglomerate Shandong Ruyi. Trinity was placed into liquidation in March 2021 and FTI Consulting was appointed as liquidator in December 2021.
In its last published accounts, covering the first Covid-19 pandemic year in 2020, the Gieves & Hawkes holding company warned it would not be able to continue as a going concern without finding new backers.
The holding company had debts worth £23.7m, and accounts for the main operating company showed the coronavirus pandemic caused a slump in sales from £11.2m in 2019 to only £3.9m in 2020. The company lost £4.5m after tax during 2020.
Gieves & Hawkes and FTI Consulting were approached for comment. Frasers declined to comment.