Valuable: The Jaeger brand is certain to appeal to M&S’s core customers
Marks & Spencer held discussions with British fashion brand Jaeger shortly before the high street lockdown as part of an overhaul of its clothing strategy coming in the new year, The Mail on Sunday can reveal.
Sources said the retail giant separately held informal talks about a possible acquisition of the business as recently as last week.
The Mail on Sunday understands Marks & Spencer – which declined to comment – has drawn up a ‘hit list’ of at least 20 brands with which it would like to form partnerships and that Jaeger is among them.
The discussions that took place prior to the coronavirus lockdown centred on a ‘collaboration’ as part of a broad strategic plan to reposition Marks & Spencer’s clothing and home business with brand partnerships to draw in new and lapsed shoppers.
A source told The Mail on Sunday that a full swoop on the brand has since been discussed internally while another said talks have taken place over a deal – possibly even a strategic partnership or a stake – since it was put up for sale by its owner Philip Day this month.
But another Marks & Spencer source appeared to distance the firm from any active interest in Jaeger, insisting there was ‘no formal process’.
Jaeger is run by Lauren Day, the daughter of the fashion tycoon whose group is in financial disarray after the pandemic hit trade.
Edinburgh Woollen Mill – also the name of Day’s group – and Ponden Home were formally placed in administration a week ago. Day has been in talks to sell a stake in Peacocks to hedge fund Davidson Kempner – as revealed last month by The Mail on Sunday.
As part of the overhaul of the group, Day’s other businesses – which include Austin Reed – have been put up for sale with several ‘big hitters’ said to be interested in Jaeger. Marks & Spencer’s fierce rival Next is thought to be among them.
Sportswear mogul Mike Ashley is also said to be interested.
One senior fashion market source familiar with the Jaeger and M&S businesses said a collaboration with Jaeger could work ‘incredibly well’ and would sharpen the appeal to Marks & Spencer’s core customers.
The source said that despite Jaeger’s troubled past, Day’s daughter has built new product ranges and improved margins.
‘M&S has a premium food business but its clothing doesn’t measure up. A brand like Jaeger could help bridge the gap,’ the source added.
High streets and town centres were in crisis even before the pandemic. A handful of shops giants have used their financial might to snap up retail businesses, including Boohoo which acquired the online divisions of Karen Millen and Coast a year ago for just £18.2million.
Ashley seized department store House of Fraser in 2018 and last year bought clothing business Jack Wills and computer game retailer Game.
But Marks & Spencer’s main rival is Next which has grown rapidly in the past two decades as M&S stagnated. In September it acquired Victoria’s Secret UK, placing yet more pressure on M&S which is Britain’s biggest lingerie retailer.
Next has spent years building a portfolio of brands that supply its website, including Barbour, Abercrombie & Fitch and Boden.
Marks & Spencer said earlier this month that it wants to build a ‘curated portfolio’ of third-party brands, announcing a partnership with fashion label Nobody’s Child and, in recent days, a deal with toy retailer Early Learning Group.
The recent talks would not be the first time that M&S has examined opportunities with Jaeger.
Sources said former Marks & Spencer chief Marc Bolland was offered Jaeger when it last became available, but shied away and it was bought by Day. Failing to act could leave it out in the cold.
One City source said: ‘Perhaps the more remarkable thing is that Marks & Spencer hasn’t done something with Jaeger in the past.’
But one M&S source said bosses are reluctant to battle the likes of Boohoo, Next and Mike Ashley in collecting high street fashion assets. Instead they are said to prefer working with different partners to supply bigger stores and online businesses.
The company also has its hands full building its online food delivery business with Ocado in a deal which was first revealed in The Mail on Sunday.
One senior industry source speculated that Day may yet seek to keep Jaeger in the family.
‘His daughter has been running it,’ said the source. ‘It’s very much a family set-up.
‘I imagine he will buy out the pieces he wants and I would have thought that would include Jaeger.’