Whistles, the high street fashion chain, has been bought by the Foschini Group in the latest move by a South African retailer into the British market. Foschini, which last year bought Phase Eight in the UK, has acquired the 46 Whistles stores and its online business and will use the combined operations to expand in the northern hemisphere, the company said. It did not disclose the sale price.
Since the launch of Whistles as a women’s fashion brand in 1976 by husband-and-wife team Richard and Lucille Lewin, its fortunes have fluctuated. It was in the doldrums and perceived as frumpy in 2008 when Jane Shepherdson, formerly of Topshop, joined as chief executive with a 20% stake.
Shepherdson turned Whistles into a “Topshop for grownups”, targeting younger customers rather than the “yummy mummies” who had become its staple. Shepherdson has kept her stake and will continue to run the business after the sale. Peter Davies, chairman of Whistles since 2008 and the former chairman of shoe retailer Clarks, has sold his stake.
Foschini said it wanted to expand the company, which added a menswear range in 2014, into new markets. South African retailers have been buying up European companies to reduce their reliance on the rand, which has tumbled over the past year.
Foschini bought Whistles from Mundur, an Icelandic investment company, Bloomberg said. Whistles was part of the retail empire controlled by Baugur, the Icelandic group that entered administration in 2009 during Iceland’s banking crisis. The UK chain was refinanced and became an independent company.