Foschini eyes UK retailer Whistles

wHISTLESWritten by Ashley Armstrong and Ben Marlow for the Telegraph. Foschini, the South African owner of womenswear retailer Phase Eight, is understood to be circling fashion brand Whistles.

The high street chain, which counts the Duchess of Cambridge as a fan, has called in advisers at KPMG to prepare for a sale and is already fielding interest from a clutch of prospective buyers.

If Foschini succeeds with a takeover of Whistles, it will be the latest South African company to snap up a British retailer, following a wave of deals.

Last year Brait, the investment vehicle controlled by South Africa’s richest man, Christo Wiese, bought New Look in a £1.9bn deal, while Truworths acquired footwear business Office for £256m.

Steinhoff International has also entered into a bidding war for both Argos and London-listed electrical retailer Darty in the past few weeks.

The Duchess of Cambridge is a dedicated fan of Whistles
The Duchess of Cambridge is a dedicated fan of Whistles CREDIT: TIM ROOKE / REX FEATURES

South African companies have been looking at ways of diversifying their sources of revenue beyond the rand, which has weakened by around 23pc against the dollar in the past year amid political turbulence.

Cape Town-based Foschini, which runs 2,000 stores across South Africa, bought Phase Eight last year from private equity firm Towerbrook in a move aimed at boosting its international expansion.

Chief executive Jane Sheperdson, the former boss of Topshop, continues to own a sizeable stake in Whistles after she engineered a management buy-in in 2008 with the backing of Baugur, the Icelandic investment firm.

The deal, which saw her and senior management take a 20pc stake, was refinanced a year later at the height of the financial crisis by other Icelandic investors after Baugur collapsed into administration.

It is not clear whether prospective buyers are being offered a stake or full control of Whistles, which has been judged to have been revived under Ms Sheperdson’s stewardship.

Whistles’ last available accounts showed that annual sales increased by 9pc to £63m but the fashion retailer swung to a pre-tax loss of £2.4m on the back of the costs of launching in the US and starting a menswear range. The business also spent £434,000 on a runway show at London Fashion Week.

Whistles has 49 stores in the UK and 76 concessions in shops including in Harvey Nichols, Selfridges, Harrods and Bloomingdales. Whistles and Foschini declined to comment.