Philip Green Said in Talks With Baugur

Topshop owner could take stake in troubled Icelandic firm that controls House of Fraser, Whistles and Karen Millen.

LONDON — Retail tycoon Sir Philip Green is negotiating to purchase a large chunk of debt from Icelandic company Baugur Group.

If successful, Green will get direct control of British fashion brands including Oasis, Karen Millen, Principles, Warehouse and Shoe Studio.

Green, whose retail group Arcadia owns Topshop, on Sunday told WWD he has been in negotiations since Thursday with principals from Baugur, a victim of the banking collapse in Iceland. Green said Baugur owes the major Icelandic banks “well in excess of $2 billion,” although he would not disclose how much of the debt he intends to buy, or how much he is prepared to pay.

Any deal would likely be done early this week, Green added.

“Baugur came to see me Thursday night, and we have been working since then. I do not want to see these businesses fail. It is not helpful to anybody, and very bad for the industry,” he said. “We understand these businesses, and there are staffing and supply synergies with Arcadia.”

Green said that if a deal does go through, it will be financed “with my own family money.” The Financial Times over the weekend reported Green is in talks with Baugur. Last week, in response to a question about the global credit crunch, Green told WWD that Arcadia had no specific leverage, and that he was in a position to make a sizable acquisition without help from the banks.

On Sunday, Baugur UK chairman Jón Asgeir Jóhannesson told Icelandic television that selling the group’s debts to Green, even at “fire sale prices,” would be better than letting its British companies fail.

In addition to its investments in some of Britain’s best known specialty chains, Baugur holds minority stakes in Saks Fifth Avenue, Matthew Williamson, PPQ, and the department store chain House of Fraser.
As Iceland’s financial crisis has spiraled over the past few weeks, with three of the country’s banks being nationalized, speculation has swirled in the British press over the future of Baugur’s businesses.