Baugur buys Karen Millen for £120m and plans flotation

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The Independent Online

Kevin Stanford stepped down yesterday from Karen Millen, the fashion business he co-founded 24 years ago, with an £11m windfall after selling the group to Baugur, the Icelandic retailer, in a deal valued at £120m.

Baugur intends to merge Karen Millen, which also owns the Whistles chain, with Oasis, the high street fashion chain it acquired last November, before a stock market flotation within the next 18 months.

Derek Lovelock, who runs Oasis, said there would be "substantial" savings from merging Karen Millen and Whistles with the Oasis infrastructure. The enlarged group, which also includes the Coast chain, will have combined sales of £350m and more than 500 outlets.

He said the size of the group meant a stock market listing would "clearly be a possibility" as soon as the end of next year. He plans to open 50 new stores per year across all four brands.

Mr Stanford, who ran the business with his former partner, the designer Karen Millen, said: "It's now time to move on. We started this business in our teens and we don't want to do the same thing all our lives." The business is expected to have sales of £120m in the year to January 2005, against £67m in January 2002. It bought Whistles two years ago from Richard Caring, Philip Green's chief supplier.

Mr Stanford and Ms Millen each owned 30 per cent of the womenswear retailer, with the remaining 40 per cent owned by a group of Icelandic investors, including Sigurdur Bollason and Magnus Armann, who hold the stake through Kaupthing, the Icelandic bank. Yesterday's deal valued their combined equity stake at £37m, Mr Lovelock said.

Although neither Mr Stanford nor Ms Millen will have any day-to-day involvement with running the new group, they will retain a 25 per cent equity stake along with the other Karen Millen shareholders.

Baugur has been buying up the UK high street recently. It owns the toy shop group Hamleys, the jewellers Goldsmiths and the health food chain Julian Graves. It also has stakes in House of Fraser, Big Food Group, Somerfield and LXB Properties, a £300m property fund.

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