NEW YORK, United States — Sycamore Partners LLC made a preliminary bid to buy assets of bankrupt Ascena Retail Group Inc. including the Ann Taylor brand, according to people familiar with the matter.The private equity firm is offering to buy the Ann Taylor, Loft and Lane Bryant labels from Ascena, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the bid isn’t public. The offer is non-binding, and negotiations will continue before a final bid is submitted in court, the people said.Representatives for Sycamore and Ascena declined to comment.After a string of acquisitions starting in 2009, Mahwah, N.J.-based Ascena was struggling with dated brands and declining revenue even before the coronavirus froze much consumer spending. The company shut its shops in mid-March as the coronavirus outbreak spread, and began to re-open locations in early May as state authorities lifted restrictions. Like other retailers, Ascena’s business was thrown into disarray by Covid-related closures.The company filed for bankruptcy in July with plans to cull its 2,800 stores to just 1,200. It’s finalising a plan to cut debt by about $1 billion and hand ownership to lenders including Bain Capital LP and Monarch Alternative Capital LP. Bloomberg first reported in July that New York-based Sycamore was interested in the assets.Ascena last week said that FullBeauty Brands had won a court auction to buy Ascena’s plus-size Catherines chain for $40.8 million.By Lauren Coleman-Lochner, Katherine Doherty and Eliza Ronalds-Hannon.