Husband and wife bank £400m from sale of Matchesfashion.com

A husband and wife who started in fashion retail with one shop in Wimbledon 30 years ago have banked £400m after selling their online designer empire Matchesfashion.com to private equity investors.

Tom and Ruth Chapman will join the ranks of the mega-rich after taking their business, which sells brands including Gucci, Prada and Stella McCartney, as well as their own label Raey, to customers across the globe. They are understood to be keeping a stake in the business worth about £130m.

Funds advised by Apax Partners, a firm that owns Karl Lagerfeld and previously invested in Tommy Hilfiger, have agreed to buy a majority stake in the business in a deal that values Matches at £800m. The Chapmans, both in their 50s, are understood to be cashing in the vast majority of their 67% stake. They are stepping back from day-to-day involvement and will retain only an advisory role.

The fashion empire, which stocks 400 brands and ships to 190 countries, attracted 55 million visitors to its website last year as it launched new services, including delivery within 90 minutes to well-heeled London shoppers. It deals with some of the biggest spenders in the fashion world with the top 3% of its customers accounting for 35% of sales.

More than 90% of Matches’ £204m sales are made online, but the group also has a trio of stores situated on some of London’s most affluent high streets: in Marylebone, Notting Hill and Wimbledon. The retailer’s best shoppers can also call in at No 23, a “private-shopping townhouse” in Marylebone that it uses to entertain clients and designers. The luxury environment is an important part of the package used to butter up shoppers who typically spend more than £500 a go.

The deal comes amid a tightly fought battle over the fast-growing online designer market.

The rival company Farfetch is rumoured to be plotting a $5bn (£4bn) public listing just 10 years after it was set up, making it one of the UK’s most valuable internet businesses. In June, it announced plans to expand into the Chinese market after selling a minority stake, for $397m, to JD.com, the country’s biggest retailer.

The biggest online luxury retailer Net-a-Porter merged with the Italian designer sales site Yoox in 2015 and now has global sales of nearly €2bn, about half of which come via mobile phones.

Last year Matches moved out of its head office in Clapham Junction in London to a new HQ in the Shard, taking 48,000 sq ft of office space in the landmark skyscraper. The Chapmans have adjacent corner offices overlooking the city.

Originally from the Wirral, Ruth Chapman, who describes herself as “the mummy” of Matches, always harboured a strong interest in fashion. Her first job out of school was at Jaeger in London.

Ruth met Tom when she was 21 and he persuaded her to work alongside him at his then struggling boutique in Wimbledon. The store, which had opened in 1987, was named after the matches Tom used to feed his 40-a-day cigarette habit.

Their success has been built on their ability to spot up-and-coming designers, as well as the ability to anticipate the whims of its wealthy shoppers.

The couple said in a statement: “Matchesfashion.com has redefined the face of luxury commerce and become renowned globally for having the fashion point of view. The business has never been in a stronger position and we want to thank our loyal customers, the exceptional brands and the brilliant people who we are fortunate enough to work with. They inspire us every day to be better.”

The transition began four years ago when the Chapmans hired the French tech entrepreneur Ulric Jerome to take over the day-to-day reins as chief executive.

Gabriele Cipparrone, a partner at Apax Partners, said the firm believed there was huge potential in online luxury retail and Matches was well placed to take advantage.

“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. Online penetration of the luxury market is still small and we anticipate this will grow significantly in the coming years,” Cipparrone said.

“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.”


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