• Sports Direct emerges as front runner to acquire Austin Reed
  • Owner Mike Ashley faces competition from Touker Souleyman and Philip Day
  • Austin Reed’s administrators are collating bids for the retailer today
  • Comes as Ashley also eyes collapsed department store chain BHS

Sports Direct founder Mike Ashley has emerged as the front-runner to acquire embattled fashion chain Austin Reed, Retail Week has learned.

The billionaire is among a number of parties who have tabled offers for the beleaguered retailer, which collapsed into administration last month.

Ghost and Hawes & Curtis owner Touker Suleyman and Edinburgh Woollen Mill owner Philip Day are also understood to have submitted bids for parts of the business.

Retail Week revealed in April that Moss Bros, Joules, White Stuff and Jones Bootmaker were also eyeing parcels of stores.

But Sports Direct, which is also interested in acquiring collapsed department store chain BHS, has muscled its way to the head of the queue after submitting a shock bid for Austin Reed last week.

Retail Week understands that administrator AlixPartners is collating firm bids today, although it has not set a formal deadline for approaches.

Retail property consultancy GCW, which is advising AlixPartners on Austin Reed’s property portfolio, said there had been “strong interest” in the retailer, but declined to comment on the identity of the bidders.

Ashley’s emergence as the most likely buyer comes weeks after the retail tycoon and Newcastle United owner publicly expressed his interest in acquiring BHS, which plunged into administration putting 11,000 jobs at risk.

He said: “We would anticipate that there would not be any job losses, including jobs at head office, and that all stores would remain open.”

Austin Reed, which operates across 100 stores and 50 concessions, continues to trade while the administrators try to find a buyer.

There are no immediate plans for store closures or redundancies, but it has shuttered 31 shops and is also selling its 35,000 sq ft Regent Street flagship following a failed company voluntary arrangement (CVA).