NEW YORK — The conflict between men’s wear designer Joseph Abboud and executive Bob Wichser just got a lot uglier.
This story first appeared in the July 21, 2003 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
In the wake of his ongoing lawsuit against JA Apparel Corp. and its related parties for fraud, Abboud on July 11 leveled a new suit against Wichser personally, accusing the president and chief operating officer of JA Apparel Corp. of breach of fiduciary duty, common law fraud and tortious interference with contract.
Like the November 2002 suit against JA Apparel, GFT USA, GFT Net, Holding di Partecipazioni Industriali SpA (now known as RCS Media Group) and Roberto Jorio Fili — who was chief executive officer of Torino, Italy–based GFT — the new suit, filed by heavyweight litigator David Boies, centers on Abboud’s claims that he was fraudulently duped into selling his trademarks in 2000 with promises that he would retain creative control over Abboud-branded products.
Those verbal assurances, according to Abboud, have been reneged upon, as Wichser, with the backing of RCS Media Group chairman and ceo Maurizio Romiti, has denied the designer any measure of authority within the company that bears the name he sold for $65 million.
When reached for comment about the new charges against his former friend and business partner, Abboud said, “The facts will bear themselves out. I have a good lawyer and I’m not going to try this case in the press. This case was well founded and it is not a frivolous suit.”
In the new lawsuit, Abboud outlines a scenario in which Wichser was hired in 1998 as a consultant to Houndstooth Corp., the company Abboud created to manage the Abboud trademarks, and then, the suit claims, knowingly and fraudulently worked in concert with GFT to deny the designer any creative control over products bearing the Abboud name. At the same time, Wichser received a $6-million-plus bonus from Abboud for his role in the sale of the trademarks.
“Wichser’s actions were the work of an adversary, not a fiduciary and not of a corporate officer of JA Apparel obligated to maximize the value of the Joseph Abboud trademarks, licenses and brand,” reads one part of the official complaint filed in the Supreme Court of the State of New York. “Instead, Wichser’s actions were designated to promote and enrich himself. They have caused millions of dollars of damage to plaintiffs, and potentially irreparable damage to the Joseph Abboud brand.” For these alleged “wrongful acts,” Abboud is seeking to recoup the $6 million bonus from Wichser, in addition to damages and legal fees.
Wichser, for his part, reacted forcefully to news of the suit, writing in a prepared statement, “I am outraged that Joseph has chosen to resort to such a despicable action, and I am truly saddened that he sued me personally based on allegations that are untrue, unfounded and unsubstantiated….During my tenure with JA Apparel Corp. annual sales increased from $40 million to $125 million, the business went from a perennial money-losing operation to a highly profitable one, and I was instrumental in building the value of the business such that Joseph was able personally to realize more than $65 million for the sale of his trademarks.”
The original suit is on hold until Sept. 18 and may be consolidated with the new suit against Wichser, according to Boies.