Matchesfashion.com Sells Majority Stake to Apax After Fierce Bidding War

Mr. Chapman said the company’s current chief executive, Ulric Jerome, and chief financial officer, Fiona Greiner, would stay on with the goal of “driving Matchesfashion.com to become the number-one luxury fashion commerce company in the world.”

The Chapmans began their business as Matches, a single, high-end, multibrand boutique in London’s upscale Wimbledon neighborhood. As the first such retailer in Britain to sell Prada, Versace, Ferré and Dolce & Gabbana, they realized after the financial crisis in 2008 that the future of their business — and their route to global expansion — was online. The company rebranded as Matchesfashion.com in 2013, after hiring Mr. Jerome as chief executive.

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The chief executive of Matchesfashion.com, Ulric Jerome, center, with the luxury fashion seller’s founders, Tom Chapman, left, and Ruth Chapman. Mr. Jerome will stay with the company.

Credit
Tom Jamieson for The New York Times

Now based in the Shard skyscraper in London and with a staff of 500, the group offers customers in 176 countries an array of products from over 450 established and emerging designers via a website, an app and three physical stores in London. The company said in March that it had made a total of 587,000 sales in the 12 months that ended on Jan. 31, with an average value of £511, and now offers a 90-minute delivery service in London.

Matchesfashion.com’s sales revenue is still smaller than that of competitors like Yoox Net-a-Porter and FarFetch. But the group has gained considerable cachet in recent years as the preferred shopping choice for industry insiders, and for offering a highly desirable selection of elite brands and exclusive collaborations at a time when wealthy consumers are increasingly turning to retailers for products that few others have.

The group reported record full-year results, with revenue up 61 percent, to £204 million; its earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization rose about sixfold, to more than £19 million.

Apax’s acquisition of its stake is to be finalized in the year’s fourth quarter. The deal comes in an increasingly volatile shopping environment for retailers online and off, where long-term survival is dictated by anticipating and catering to consumers’ desires (often before they even know what they want). Competition in the online luxury market has been particularly intense, with new and established players jostling aggressively for market share as more customers shop on their smartphones.

“Online penetration of the luxury market is still small, and we anticipate this will grow significantly in the coming years,” said Gabriele Cipparrone, an Apax partner. “Matchesfashion.com, with its distinctive assortment, unique voice, and unparalleled customer service, is ideally placed to attract and encourage this growth in the online luxury market.”

“Tom and Ruth, along with Ulric and his management team, have done a tremendous job in expanding the business in a sector that continues to demonstrate huge growth potential.”

A number of private equity firms have entered the luxury market in the last decade, with mixed results.

The acquisition of the Italian fashion house Roberto Cavalli by Clessidra in 2015, for example, was followed by plummeting sales and short-lived stints at the top for the company’s newly appointed chief executive and creative director. The British accessories brand Jimmy Choo famously went through several private equity owners, including Lion Capital, TowerBrook Capital Partners and Phoenix Equity Partners, before being sold to Michael Kors for $1.2 billion in July.

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