French Connection shareholders back £29m takeover

Fashion chain returns to private hands after swoop by Newcastle businessman

Last modified on Mon 1 Nov 2021 12.02 EDT

French Connection shareholders have backed the £29m takeover of the fashion brand led by a Newcastle-based businessman, putting the company back into private hands for the first time since 1983.

The new owners are expected to take over on 8 November. The 75-year-old chair and chief executive, Stephen Marks, who co-founded the chain in 1972 and owns nearly 42% of the company, is to receive about £12m for his stake in the business.

Apinder Singh Ghura, who in February bought a 25% stake in French Connection from Mike Ashley’s Frasers Group, the owner of Sports Direct, teamed up to buy out the brand with a Manchester-based business partner, Amarjit Singh Grewal, and KJR Brothers, which is led by Rafiq Patel, a textile businessman.

Ghura spent years in the clothing industry before shifting to other investments including property and care homes.

The French Connection deal comes after the three acquired the Bench fashion brand in March via a group called Wraith Holdings International, which has the former Sports Direct executive Peter Wood as a director.

Wood also co-owns a group called Apparel Brands with Grewal, which holds distribution rights for revival brands including Bench as well as the 1980s casuals label Farah, and Dunlop, the tennis shoe brand that was once owned by Sports Direct.

The takeover deal requires final court approval before shares are expected to cease trading on 5 November.

The consortium face a battle to revive French Connection after years of problems for the brand, which was once highly sought after because of its controversial FCUK branding that launched in the 1990s and ran until the mid-00s.

The group has not made a pre-tax profit since 2012 and has suffered from high street pandemic lockdowns.

Last month the Financial Reporting Council, an accountancy watchdog, said it was investigating the audit of French Connection’s accounts for the year to January 2020 by the accountancy firm Mazars.

French Connection owns the Great Plains and You Must Create (YMC) brands, and operates 67 stores and concessions in the UK. The group, which has 780 staff, operates in 161 locations overseas under franchises and licences.

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