Former Country Casuals pair rescue Elle from administrators

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The Independent Online

A married couple who made a fortune from backing the Oasis clothing chain have snapped up the Elle clothing brand out of administration.

Mark and Christina Bunce, who used to run the Country Casuals womenswear chain, paid an undisclosed sum for DB Actif, which has the UK licence for the Elle brand. The company suspended its shares and appointed Kroll to seek a buyer this month after a collapse in trading left it squeezed for cash.

The Bunces, who started out working for Bernard and Laura Ashley, are close to the Bennett brothers, who recently backed the buyout of Kookai, the French fashion chain, from administration. The husband and wife team were early backers of Oasis, the clothing chain Michael and Maurice Bennett turned into a high-street success story after snapping it up for a song from administrators in the early 1990s.

But it was at Country Casuals that Mark and his wife Christina made their name. The pair bought the chain from Coats Viyella, bringing it to the stock market in 1992. Their attempt later to buy out the chain failed and it ended up as part of Austin Reed, where it is known as CC.

The Bunces used a privately controlled company, L wear Limited, to acquire DB Actif. Kroll said selling the company as a going concern meant only 30 of the company's 300 employees would lose their jobs.

Actif's shareholders, including Ted Baker, the fashion retailer, and David Brock, the chairman, are expected to lose their investments. Its market value had fallen from £3m when floated in 2000 tojust £1.16m when the administrators were called in. Actif owns eight stores in the UK, nine department store concessions and a wholesaling business.It had sales of £26m last year.

The company acquired the Elle brand name from Hachette Filipacchi Medias, the French publishing group behind the women's magazine, in 1996, when it dominated the market for women's sportswear. But since then some of the biggest names in the business, such as Adidas, have muscled into the market.