FASHION CAFE, the glitzy theme restaurant in London's Piccadilly Circus fronted by a group of supermodels which opened in a blaze of publicity last November, was placed in the hands of an administrator yesterday.
Models Claudia Schiffer, Naomi Campbell and Elle McPherson were replaced by the portly, pinstriped figure of John Alexander, a bankruptcy specialist with accountants Pannell Kerr Forster.
Mr Alexander said his priority was to keep the business trading through the Christmas and New Year period, and to find a buyer. "People have got to know that if they booked their Christmas party with us, we'll still be open," he said.
Investors who sank pounds 6m into transforming the disused Rialto cinema into a lavish restaurant-cum-nightclub, are unlikely to see much of their money back, he added. Creditors are owed a total of pounds 2m.
The administrator would not be drawn on the identities of the investors, who are all represented by a range of offshore businesses.
The restaurant went bust because the founders had spent too much money on refurbishing the Rialto's lavish decor, while not providing enough cash to pay for the cafe's day-to-day running expenses, said Mr Alexander.
Fashion Cafe is the London franchise of a United States operation launched three years ago as the supermodels' answer to Planet Hollywood, the theme burger chain.
But just as Planet Hollywood has seen its profits and share price fall recently, so the Fashion Cafe has run into problems. Two of its eight outlets - in Barcelona and New Orleans - have been closed. Last year, another supermodel, Christy Turlington, resigned. And this year, the company's founder and former biggest investor, Tommaso Buti, 33, resigned after selling his stake to a Mexican clothing firm.
One US investor launched a legal action against Mr Buti over lack of access to the firm's accounts, but this has now been settled "amicably".
The American side of the Fashion Cafe business said yesterday that a new management team had been assembled to oversee its operations worldwide.
"Tommaso Buti, founder of Fashion Cafe, has resigned voluntarily a while back. He has always denied any allegations of wrongdoing against him, and all issues have been settled to the parties' satisfaction," said a company spokeswoman.
The company currently has franchises in London, New York, Manila, Mexico City and Jakarta, and is due to open cafes soon in Dubai and Cancun, Mexico.
Mr Alexander is optimistic about finding a buyer for the London cafe. "We've already had a lot of interest because the cafe's on such a prime site. The new owner might like to continue running the Fashion Cafe in tandem with a caberet - the building has a stage as well," he pointed out.
The supermodels themselves would not lose money from the London collapse. "They had a consultancy arrangment. They received appearance fees," he said.
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