And in other bankruptcy news, the race to purchase Brooks Brothers out of bankruptcy is on as brand manager WHP Global readies a bid following Authentic Brands Group LLC and Simon Property Group Inc.’s $305 million offer.

(Bloomberg)—Authentic Brands Group and Sycamore Partners are among the parties considering buying bankrupt Ann Taylor parent Ascena Retail Group Inc. (No. 38 in the 2020 Digital Commerce 360 Top 1000), according to people familiar with the matter.
Authentic would team up with the two largest mall landlords, Simon Property Group Inc. and Brookfield Property Partners, to buy all or some of Ascena’s assets, said the people, who declined to be identified because the process isn’t public.

Ascena had been struggling to contend with dated brands and merchandise and a shift to online shopping despite a string of acquisitions over the years. In its bankruptcy filing, it said it plans to winnow its 2,800 locations to just 1,200, putting a significant portion of its 40,000 employees at risk.

The company’s other chains include Loft, Lane Bryant and Justice. It said in court papers that it plans to close all of the stores in its Catherines chain. Australia’s City Chic Collective Ltd. agreed to be the lead bidder in an expected auction for Catherines’ intellectual property and e-commerce business.

Representatives for Authentic, Ascena, Sycamore and Brookfield declined to comment, while Simon didn’t respond to a request for comment.

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Ascena entered into an agreement with its lenders to cut debt in exchange for reorganized equity. The restructuring will give control to firms who support the plans, according to court records. Those include Bain Capital and Monarch Alternative Capital, which each get to appoint a director to the company’s board. A consortium of lenders including those firms, Eaton Vance Corp. and Lion Point Capital will choose another.

Though the current agreement calls for lenders to own Ascena after the bankruptcy, plans could change based on competing future bids for the company as a whole, or some of its brands, said the people. The situation remains fluid and requires court approval, as well as the consent of the parties who are subject to the restructuring agreement, they added.

Authentic and Sycamore have emerged as major players amid a retail shakeout that’s seen waves of bankruptcies and liquidations. Both are also considering purchasing bankrupt department store J.C. Penney Co. Most recently, Authentic partnered with Simon and Brookfield to buy bankrupt Forever 21, a fast-fashion clothing chain with hundreds of mall stores.

Bankrupt Brooks Brothers gets rescue takeover bid

The race to purchase Brooks Brothers Group Inc. out of bankruptcy is on as brand manager WHP Global readies a bid following Authentic Brands Group LLC and Simon Property Group Inc.’s $305 million offer.

Sparc Group LLC, which is backed by Barneys New York owner Authentic and mall landlord Simon, agreed to a $305 million bid in a court-supervised auction for Brooks Brothers’ global business operations, according to a statement.

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The group has committed to take on at least 125 of the clothing stores in its so-called stalking-horse bid, which sets a minimum price for the auction. A higher bid could still emerge before an Aug. 5 deadline as other firms prepare competing offers.

WHP Global is preparing a bid for the retailer’s assets, the firm confirmed in a statement to Bloomberg. “It’s early innings in the Brooks Brothers bankruptcy sale process,” and “we are big believers in the power of the Brooks Brothers brand, the global footprint and the management team,” said Yehuda Shmidman, chief executive officer of WHP.

Backed by funds managed by Oaktree Capital Group and BlackRock Inc., WHP was originally named the lender on Brooks Brothers’ bankruptcy loan before Authentic and Simon submitted a competing offer that ultimately won out.

Brooks Brothers’ agreement with Sparc comes with a $9.1 million break-up fee and up to $1 million in expenses if the stalking horse doesn’t win the auction, according to court papers. A hearing on the sale will be held Aug. 11.

Authentic specializes in reviving beaten-down brands, including Aéropostale and Nautica. Sparc runs more than 2,600 retail stores, shop-in-shops and an ecommerce platform, the company said.

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Brooks Brothers (No. 162 in the Top 1000) said on July 8 when it filed for bankruptcy that it plans to permanently shut 51 stores in the U.S. It has 500 worldwide in 45 countries, with 200 in North America.

Bloomberg reported earlier that Authentic and Simon were positioning themselves to own the 200-year-old chain. WHP owns brands including the Joseph Abboud and Anne Klein nameplates.

The company asked U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Christopher Sontchi in Wilmington, Delaware, to approve rules for the bidding process and auction. Brooks Brothers is trying to attract as many suitors as possible to compete with the current stalking horse, or lead, bidder, the company said in a court filing Thursday.

“The goal of the Debtors’ continued postpetition sale process is now to leverage the Stalking Horse Agreement to have new or existing bidders submit offers for the Company’s assets,” Derek Pitts, managing director at PJ Solomon said in the filing on behalf of Brooks.

In May four suitors sent Brooks official indications of interest, Pitts said.

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The case is Brooks Brothers Group Inc., 20-11785, U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware.

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