NEW YORK — Naomi Campbell’s lawyers are hoping to keep their high-profile client out of the spotlight.
This story first appeared in the January 27, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
In advance of Campbell’s hearing today for alleged breach of contract, the supermodel’s attorneys asked the New York State Supreme Court to have oral arguments held in private and to have the transcript sealed.
According to a letter sent to Judge Judith Gische by attorney Sandra Crawshaw-Sparks on Monday, the defense has “serious concerns” that perjury allegations made against Campbell, her manager Bruno Michel and her U.K. lawyer Gideon Benaim will “poison any potential jury pool” if made public.
“I think the letter is a desperation move by Naomi Campbell’s lawyers,” contended Dan Bright, the attorney at the firm of Schwartz, Lichten & Bright, who represents plaintiff Moodform Mission.
The case pits Campbell against her “mother agent” Carole White over a perfume licensing deal.
At issue in the suit, which was filed in October 2009, is a 1998 contract that Campbell signed with Moodform, a company that included White, White’s brother Chris Owen and perfume creator Joachim Mensing. According to Bright, the British-born Campbell agreed to pay Moodform 25 percent of the income she received from the sale of Naomi Campbell brand fragrance and related products that she sold through Cosmopolitan Cosmetics, a division of German hair care company Wella AG.
The licensing deal with Cosmopolitan called for Campbell to receive 4 percent of the net sales of her fragrance, which meant that Moodform would receive a quarter of her take, or 1 percent of sales derived from the products.
Moodform created the fragrance, the bottle and packaging design, market research, testing, branding and advertising, and “there was no guarantee anyone would pick it [the deal] up,” Bright said, explaining the commission.
Prior to the Cosmopolitan deal, the plaintiffs shopped the product around to beauty firms such as Clarins, Unilever, Procter & Gamble Co. and Coty Inc., and nearly inked a deal with The Estée Lauder Cos. Inc., according to Bright, who said that hopes of a partnership were quashed after press reports circulated that Campbell had overdosed on drugs while on vacation in the Canary Islands.
The plaintiffs claimed that they stopped receiving payments in 2008, after Campbell signed a new deal with Muelhens, an affiliate of Cosmopolitan, to sell the same fragrance line.
Bright said that while the defense alleges that it penned a new contract to increase Campbell’s royalties to 4.5 percent from 4 percent, the contract was intended to “cut Moodform Mission out.”
Muelhens and Cosmopolitan are the “same company” and not “legally distinct entities,” as the defense claims, Bright asserted.
Taking into account royalties from past and future sales through the duration of the Muelhens contract, Moodform is looking to collect $8 million, not including other costs.
“As long as the Naomi Campbell brand is on the market, they get 25 percent,” claimed Bright, who estimated that Campbell has made $15 million from the perfume line. “They were not acting like a modeling agent. This was a business venture that they entered into.”
Bright will request a summary judgment and ask the judge to review the affidavits of Campbell, Michel and Benaim for perjury.
White provided a recording of her 2006 meeting with Michel and Benaim, which she contends contradicts the trio’s affidavits.
Bright is also looking for the judge to throw out a countersuit in which Campbell alleged that White misrepresented her role with Moodform.
Attorneys for Campbell did not return phone calls or e-mails by press time.
Campbell’s 20-year relationship with her agent played out rather publicly this summer at The Hague when a haggard-looking White soberly disputed the supermodel’s testimony at the war crimes trial of ex-Liberian president Charles Taylor. Both White and actress Mia Farrow asserted that Campbell knowingly accepted so-called “blood diamonds” from Taylor, putting the hotheaded model back in the hot seat.