Arcadia Group, the retail empire owned by Sir Philip Green, has collapsed into administration, putting 13,000 jobs at risk.
The group, which owns brands including Topshop, Burton and Dorothy Perkins, said no redundancies would be announced immediately, with all stores continuing to trade while administrator Deloitte considers the options available to save the business.
It said the pandemic had “severely impacted” sales across the group, which has 444 stores in the UK and 22 abroad.
Some 9,294 employees – more than two thirds of its workforce – are currently on furlough.
Chief executive Ian Grabiner said: “The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, including the forced closure of our stores for prolonged periods, has severely impacted on trading across all of our brands.
“Throughout this immensely challenging time our priority has been to protect jobs and preserve the financial stability of the group, in the hope that we could ride out the pandemic and come out fighting on the other side.
“Ultimately, however, in the face of the most difficult trading conditions we have ever experienced, the obstacles we encountered were far too severe.”
Matt Smith, joint administrator at Deloitte, said it was working to identify one or more buyers to rescue the business, which also includes the Miss Selfridge, Evans and Outfit brands.
Dave Gill, national officer at retail workers’ union Usdaw, said the union was seeking urgent meetings with Arcadia to establish which efforts are being made to save jobs and fund its pension scheme.
He said: “Over 200,000 retail job losses and 20,000 store closures this year are absolutely devastating and lay bare the scale of the challenge the industry faces. Each one of those job losses is a personal tragedy for the individual worker and store closures are scarring our high streets and communities.”