Colourful Australian retail identity dies

An Australian clothing empire heir famed for his colourful antics in the 1990s has died after a long battle with illness.

Matthew Bennett, 59, passed away on Wednesday at his home in Bangkok where he was running a his own retail manufacturing business — a spin-off of his family’s five-generation empire, which included his father, menswear tycoon, Ron Bennett.

Mr Bennett had been living and working in Thailand for at least eight years, and was married with two young children.

He had been in Australia receiving treatment for an auto-immune condition late last year, before returning to Bangkok just prior to Christmas.

In the late-1990s, Mr Bennett gained worldwide headlines when a secretly-filmed sex tape emerged, shot in a Double Bay hotel suite, allegedly with Mimi Macpherson.

Her friends and family denied it was Ms Macpherson, 51, who is better known for running a whale-watching tourism business.

But such were the rumours and questions about the sex tape, Mimi threatened legal action after revelations surfaced in the London’s Sunday Mirror newspaper.

The tape was of very poor quality but also featured Matthew Bennett, who later admitted he had made the explicit tape but had never meant for it to be circulated.

At the time, Mr Bennett, who had been running a video supply business in Sydney, was awaiting trial on charges of cocaine supply.

Mr Bennett said he and Mimi were friends and “she doesn’t deserve this. No-one deserves this, particularly her.”

In July 1994, Bennett was charged after he was accused of arranging to supply cocaine to an undercover police officer. He was due to stand trial in 1998, but it is unclear whether the case continued or the charges were dropped.

After his notoriety, Mr Bennett is said to have turned his life around, throwing himself into the business world and continuing the family’s legacy in the rag trade.

Those with whom he had once become estranged were struck by the effort to make amends.

Mr Bennett retreated the limelight in Australia, but in October 2011 was filmed saving his Thai clothing business from floodwaters on the Mekong River in Bangkok.

Following monsoonal rains, thousands fled their home in the Thai capital and Mr Bennett was forced to transport goods to higher ground after having set up his factory in January that year.

“We were making shirts until last Wednesday night when the water started coming in slowly, and then by Wednesday evening midnight we had staff there in chest-deep water putting stock up,” he told the ABC.

“(The staff) had to walk through absolutely black water with snakes floating around and sewage.

“There’s infection, there’s snakes in the water — cobra snakes — there’s crocodiles that people breed that have all got out in the river. It’s a recipe for disaster. I’ve probably lost about $100,000 to $150,000.”

The same year, Ragtrader magazine reported Mr Bennett was launching a womenswear division, Brief Me Fashion, and expanding its workwear with help from his son and daughter.

He was described as the “director of the manufacturing and importing business Bennett Clothing”.

He said his daughter and her business partner would run the young women’s labels in competition with brands including Jeanswest, Dotti, Just Jeans, David Jones, Myer and Portmans.

The garments would be manufactured in Bennett Clothing’s factory in Thailand. The Thai factory would also make men’s cargo pants, and workman’s shirts.

“Step by step we’re taking over the workwear business because people are paying way to much for it,” Mr Bennett told Ragtrader in 2010.

“If I see someone selling something at $20 wholesale that I know I can carbon copy and sell it for $5.50 without the Yakka brand name, well that’s what we do in a nutshell.”

“We cut every corner. I don’t have infrastructure in Australia like all my opposition do.

“I don’t have a warehouse that’s costing $10,000 a month. I got rid of all that 20 years ago.”

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) told it was “providing consular assistance, in accordance with the Consular Services Charter, to the family of an Australian man who died in Thailand”.

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