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YSL SUES GUARDIAN: Public discussions of sensitive racial issues can often be fraught with controversy, as a legal battle between Yves Saint Laurent’s creative director, Stefano Pilati, and the U.K.’s Guardian newspaper group shows. YSL and Pilati are embroiled in criminal and civil defamation suits against the Guardian over a story that appeared in the April 19 issue of its weekly Sunday paper, The Observer, and on the Guardian Web site.
The story in question, titled “America’s New Vogue for Black Fashion Is All Due to Michelle Obama,” described the influence the First Lady was exerting on the fashion world — but also delved into the historic paucity of minority models in fashion. As an example of the industry’s attitudes toward the issue, the story repeated comments Pilati made to Washington Post fashion writer Robin Givhan in a 2007 profile of the designer.
“The fashion industry has historically played fast and loose with the sort of colour bar that could not exist in other industries,” the Guardian story said. “Bar a handful of top names, there are few black models on the runways of the fashion world. Nor, historically, have they been much more than tokens on magazine covers or fashion shoots. In 2007 top designer Stefano Pilati complained to a Washington Post fashion reporter (who was black) that he could not find black models that had the right body proportions and so did not design clothes for a black body shape. ‘You can’t find [black models] that are beautiful and with the right proportions,’ he said.”
When the original Washington Post story was published, Pilati’s provocative comments caused a stir on some Web sites and blogs. Pilati did not deny making the statements to Givhan, and no legal issues were raised by YSL with the Post. However, the Post story made clear Pilati was partly referencing the technical challenges of using a black fit model.
“To me, it is a matter of proportions and the bodies I choose. My fit model was a black model. When I wanted to translate what I put on her, it was a disaster. It would need 13 times more work in the atelier to modify it to put on a more Caucasian anatomy,” said Pilati in the Post story.
The differences in the two stories were apparently enough to upset Pilati and YSL, and in July they filed defamation suits in Paris district court against Guardian News & Media Ltd.; Paul Harris, the author of the story; Tim Brooks, managing director of the Guardian newspapers, and John Mulholland, editor of The Observer. YSL and Pilati are each suing for 150,000 euros, or $204,354 at current exchange, plus legal costs. Following a series of filings, including a March 2 document outlining the Guardian’s defense obtained by WWD, the case is scheduled to come before a judge in June.
YSL and Pilati declined to comment on the case, as did lawyers for the Guardian.
— David Lipke