By  on April 28, 1994

PARIS -- Yves Saint Laurent took Ralph Lauren to court here Wednesday, and things got pretty testy.

Lawyers for Yves Saint Laurent Couture argued before a commercial court that Lauren had copied a tuxedo dress by the French designer, and demanded damages of $868,000 (5 million francs).

But in a surprise move, Ralph Lauren's attorney, Dominique Mennard, counterattacked and demanded damages of $174,000 (1 million francs) for defamation of character for "insults contained in an article in Women's Wear Daily," made by YSL Couture president Pierre Berge.

"Pierre Berge has talent. He knows a lot about ballet and opera. Maybe he should stick to talking about that," said Mennard, referring to remarks by Berge in WWD, April 11.

In that article, Berge said, "It's quite one thing to 'draw inspiration' from another designer; it's quite another to rip off a design, line for line, cut for cut, which is what Ralph Lauren did. That's entirely unacceptable and has to be stopped."

At one stage, the proceedings turned into a fashion show, as models wearing the YSL and Lauren dresses at the heart of the dispute strode into the court.

"I know something about fashion," said Judge Madelaine Cotelle, dressed in judicial robes and wearing Salvatore Ferragamo pumps, as she inspected the dresses. "Clearly, there are differences in the two dresses. Saint Laurent's dress is made of a different fabric and has pockets, unlike Lauren's. And his buttons are gold, while Mr. Lauren's are not. The Saint Laurent dress also has wider lapels, and I must say is more beautiful -- though, of course, that will not influence my decision."

Later, YSL's ready-to-wear version was shown, as well.

Francine Summa, YSL's lawyer, told the court Saint Laurent designed the tuxedo dress for a couture collection in 1970.

He subsequently reinterpreted the design in his fall-winter 1992-'93 couture collection, and created a similar, though shorter, dress for the YSL Rive Gauche rtw collection of spring-summer '93, Summa said.

YSL became aware of the Lauren tuxedo dress when it appeared in a fashion editorial in the December 1992 French magazine Jours de France Madame, Summa said. She said YSL's investigators learned that Lauren sold 123 "copies" for about $1,000 (5,800 francs) each.

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