By  on May 19, 1994

PARIS-- The commercial court here found Ralph Lauren guilty Wednesday of copying a tuxedo dress by Yves Saint Laurent and fined the American designer a total of $393,000 (2.2 million francs).

However, Judge Madelaine Cotelle also fined Pierre Berge, the president of Yves Saint Laurent Couture, $89,295 (500,000 francs) for "denigration" of Lauren's character, based on comments Berge made in the April 11 issue of WWD.

A spokeswoman for Lauren in Paris said the house has not decided whether to appeal the decision.

"We'll need a day or two to study the judge's reasoning before we make any move," she said.

[In New York, a Lauren spokesman said, "This case is unique to the French system and has nothing to do with the actual copying of a dress. To the French court, it was irrelevant that Mr. Lauren had never seen Mr. Saint Laurent's dress, and now the mere sale in France of a halter-lapel dress, however different in design from YSL's, is prohibited."]

Berge said he will not contest the ruling against him and shrugged off his personal fine.

"I don't care a hoot about the decision against me. It's well worth paying 500,000 francs to say what I think about Ralph Lauren in Women's Wear. And anyway, we were awarded four times as much!" said Berge.

In the April article, Berge accused Lauren of "ripping off" the YSL dress, "line for line, cut for cut."

However, he expects Lauren to contest the French court's judgment that he copied YSL.

"I would have thought that [an appeal] was inevitable," Berge said.

Observers said it would come as a major surprise if Lauren did not file an appeal. Appeals are extremely common under French law, and Lauren has roughly two months to file one.

"This a great and important victory. It's the first time that a designer of world renown like Ralph Lauren has been condemned for copying the designs of a fellow designer," said Berge, who predicted that the ruling would encourage more designers to sue for copying.

Ralph Lauren declined to comment on the verdict. But since the case began, Lauren has maintained that, in his design, he was always simply trying to be himself. He has also argued that the suit was not about a tuxedo dress, but rather about a strapless dress with peak lapels.

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