Ex-M&S director to take on Kookai

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The Bennett brothers are backing a former Marks & Spencer executive to turn around Kookai in the UK, it emerged yesterday.

Maurice Helfgott, who left M&S in November 2004 as part of the retailer's boardroom clear-out after Philip Green's bid attempt, will run the fashion chain as a joint venture with its French parent Groupe Vivarte.

Maurice and Michael Bennett, behind the Warehouse, Oasis and Coast womenswear retailers, are bankrolling Mr Helfgott's outfit, Amery Capital. The trio bought Long Tall Sally, the high street chain, last June.

Amery Capital is taking on 14 stores and 20 department store concessions from Deloitte, the administrator, safeguarding about 400 jobs. The remaining five Kookai outlets, including three in central London, are to close with the loss of about 100 jobs.

"We bought what we thought could be saved," Mr Helfgott said. The former M&S director said he would assume "hands-on" responsibility for the first few months but is likely eventually to appoint a full-time executive. "It's a young, sexy brand that has a different point of view because it is designed in Paris," Mr Helfgott added about his decision to take on the Kookai franchise.

Lee Manning, the lead administrator, said the Bennett brothers were among a handful of parties keen to take on the entire business. Most of the 40 or so enquires Deloitte had were for specific properties, he added.

Amery Capital has made a downpayment of £230,000 for Kookai's stock and will pay the administrator a royalty on the rest of the stock it clears. Mr Manning said there would be "some money" for creditors of Adjustbetter, Forminster's subsidiary that ran Kookai, although shareholders in the AIM-listed vehicle are not expected to see any cash.

Groupe Vivarte told Forminster last autumn that it did not wish to renew its licensing agreement.