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Moment 81: Famous Feuds

From Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli to Yves Saint Laurent and Karl Lagerfeld, the fashion industry is no stranger to the occasional dispute.

Calvin Klein and Linda Wachner made up just before trial in 2001
Appeared In
Special Issue
WWD 100 issue 11/01/2010

Few things captivate the fashion crowd quite like a feud between industry titans. And some, like the famous altercation between Alexis and Krystle in the lily pond, are just too good to resist. There has been no shortage of cattiness among players, ranging from Giorgio Armani publicly bashing Anna Wintour in her presence to Jil Sander butting heads with Prada's Patrizio Bertelli and walking away from her namesake company—not once, but twice.

Sometimes, battles can take on epic proportions. The animosity between Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli throughout the Thirties was the stuff of industry legend, with Chanel once famously expressing her disdain for Schiaparelli by calling her "that Italian artist who makes clothes," and Schiaparelli referring to Chanel as "that milliner." That rivalry was mirrored in the Eighties by Karl Lagerfeld and Yves Saint Laurent, and in 1984, WWD cited an interview Lagerfeld gave France's Actuel magazine, in which he outraged the Paris fashion community by calling YSL "Provincial, an average Frenchman" whose only idea in life was "to be rich and famous."

More recently, there was the Gucci family saga, which had all the makings of a pulp novel, with the gunning down of Maurizio Gucci—arranged by his ex-wife, Patrizia Reggiani.

Back in the States, Calvin Klein had a very public—and legal—spat with Warnaco and then-ceo Linda Wachner, over what he charged was the dilution in the quality of Calvin Klein Underwear and the Calvin Klein Jeans license. Klein publicly referred to Wachner as "a cancer on the industry." Klein and Wachner famously kissed and made up in 2001, captured on WWD's page one by a courtroom illustrator moments before legal proceedings were to begin.

This paper found itself in a famous feud with Geoffrey Beene, which had many facets. One version had Beene refusing to give WWD a sketch of the wedding gown he designed for Lynda Bird Johnson in 1967. Another had Beene snubbing one of the paper's junior reporters (who later became one of its senior editors). A decadelong rift ensued with John B. Fairchild. After the initial dustup, the designer no longer invited the paper to his shows and his fashions were never again covered by the paper until Beene's death in 2004.

The International Herald Tribune's Suzy Menkes is no stranger to ruffling a few designer feathers, but in 2007, things got ugly between her and Marc Jacobs. After waiting two hours for Jacobs to start his infamously late show, Suzy Menkes told WWD, "I would like to murder him with my bare hands and never see another Marc Jacobs show as long as I live." The remark unleashed an unprecedented feud between journalist and designer. "She [Menkes] wants to observe a Jewish holiday, but I start a show two hours late [and] she gets her nose bent out of shape," Jacobs told WWD. Weeks later, Jacobs appeared to stick his tongue out at Menkes while taking his bow at his Louis Vuitton show, a gesture Jacobs denied was directed at the critic. The two have since reconciled.

Nobody, however, put up a fight quite like Bernard Arnault. For more than two decades, the LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton chief battled his way to the top of the luxury goods world. Along the way, he has been involved in mammoth feuds that had the entire fashion community buzzing. Case in point: Arnault's takeover struggle with then-chairman of Louis Vuitton Henry Racamier, which went on for 15 months. It ultimately resulted in Racamier's resignation in 1990 and yielded Arnault the power he needed to transform Vuitton. Later that decade, things heated up between Arnault and Domenico De Sole, who, with Tom Ford, brought Gucci from back the brink of oblivion, making it one of fashion's true powerhouses. A February 1999 WWD cover declared, "It's War" between the two. LVMH owned a 20.6 percent stake in Gucci, and in the late Nineties, made a hostile takeover bid, which Gucci fought off with the help of white knight Pinault Printemps Redoute. The bidding rose into the billions, with unheard of multiples. WWD ardently followed the feud: back-and-forth lawsuits, with Gucci Group accusing LVMH of lies and "trashy behavior" and LVMH calling these claims "inaccurate and defamatory." After more than two years of litigation, that fight ended in September 2001, when the parties reached an agreement that ultimately saw LVMH sell its Gucci stock for a very rich premium and PPR take ownership. Despite the resolution, the competition between Arnault and PPR's François Pinault—both self-made billionaires—continued for several years. Shortly after Pinault opened his Palazzo Grassi art foundation in Venice in 2006, his archrival sought to one-up him with LVMH's plans to build the $127 million, Frank Gehry–designed Louis Vuitton Foundation for Creation in Paris' Bois de Boulogne.