Fashion house Jaeger could vanish from the high street after it plunged into administration alongside a sister business with more than 4,700 jobs and almost 500 shops at risk.
The 136-year-old chain - whose clothes have been worn by the Duchess of Cambridge, Audrey Hepburn and Princess Diana - is on the brink of disappearing along with sister brand Peacocks after they were wrecked by Covid restructions.
Both chains are owned by retail billionaire Philip Day. Administrators at FRP Advisory said the search for buyers continues despite their collapse, so there will be no immediate job losses or branch closures.
The launch of an insolvency process is likely to infuriate rival tycoon Mike Ashley, whose retail group Frasers claimed earlier this month that it was frozen out of the auction process for three of Mr Day's brands.
Jaeger was founded in 1884 as a woollen clothing supplier and sold knitted longjohns to the likes of legendary polar explorer Ernest Shackleton.
Mr Day's other chains, Ponden Home and Edinburgh Woollen Mill, have already called in administrators, putting 2,900 jobs under threat.
Retailers have suffered during the pandemic as footfall collapsed during lockdowns around the UK.
There is growing industry speculation that the 55-year-old will buy some or all of his empire out of administration - meaning he would be free of any liabilities and suppliers could be saddled with millions of pounds of unpaid debt.
Sources close to the retail tycoon have previously insisted he has no intention of buying Jaeger or Edinburgh Woollen Mill.
'Advanced discussions' to save firms
The sale process for Peacocks is codenamed Project Centaur; the one for Edinburgh Woollen Mill is codenamed Project Castle. Mr Day is first in the queue of creditors to recover debts if a buyer steps in.
Tony Wright, of FRP Advisory, said: "Jaeger and Peacocks are attractive brands that have suffered the well-known challenges that many retailers face at present.
"We are in advanced discussions with a number of parties and working hard to secure a future for both businesses."
Mr Day's group sold £327m of stock in the 27 weeks to March last year and made pre-tax profits of £31.3m. It has cash in the bank and no bank debt.
A spokesman for Mr Day, who is a secured lender and in pole position to buy back some of the brands, said the company has had several constructive discussions with suitors for Peacocks and Jaeger.
However, the impact of the pandemic and second lockdown have delayed and disrupted the sale process.
He said: "While those talks are ongoing, we no longer have an option to extend the standstill agreement originally imposed by the High Court six weeks ago any further.
"Therefore we have taken the desperately difficult decision to place Peacocks and Jaeger into administration while those talks continue."
Mr Day has amassed a wide stable of brands over the years including Jaeger and Austin Reed, which have 1,100 branches between them. He was planning to launch a new department chain just three years ago.
The retailer first lodged a notice of intent to appoint administrators on Oct 9. The pandemic hit its brands severely after the chains were forced to shut stores at the peak of the crisis.
A source close to Frasers - which owns Sports Direct, House of Fraser and Evans Cycles - said earlier this month that it had expressed interest in Jaeger, Peacocks and Edinburgh Woollen Mill brands, but insolvency consultants at FRP Advisory were unhelpful and either refused to provide the normal information a buyer would expect or else handed it over very slowly.
Marks & Spencer was also linked to a deal for Jaeger.