WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court rejected an appeal Monday from Saks Fifth Avenue and Harvé Benard Ltd. and sent a cashmere labeling case back to a lower court for trial.
As is common, the high court didn’t comment when referring the case to the U.S. District Court in Boston to decide whether Saks and Benard sold cashmere blazers in 1996 that didn’t contain the precious fiber. The retailer and manufacturer are accused of running afoul of federal rules requiring accurate disclosure of fiber contention garment labels.
The case was lodged by cashmere-maker L.W. Packard & Co. and the Cashmere & Camel Hair Manufacturers Institute. The institute works internationally to ensure that garments claiming to contain these high-end fibers aren’t mislabeled. Packard is seeking monetary damages and the institute wants a court order banning future mislabeling.
The attorney for Saks handling the cashmere case could not be reached for comment, but an attorney for Benard said the manufacturer’s defense team is “fully confident we will prevail” in a trial. A trial date has not been set.
“The central issue is whether or not our products have 10 percent cashmere, recycled or not,” Benard attorney Dave Bassett said. “Our testing has always shown, without exception, our products have 10 percent cashmere.”
But Karl Spilhaus, president of the cashmere institute, stood by his organization’s tests. “There is virtually zero cashmere in these garments,” Spilhaus said.
In 1996, a District Court judge ruled in favor of Benard and Saks, ruling there wasn’t enough evidence of consumer deception to bring the case to trial. But that decision was reversed this spring by the Court of Appeals in Boston, and Benard and Saks then appealed to Supreme Court.
Filene’s Basement was initially part of the case, but because of the company’s financial problems, a court has put its legal matters on hold.
Another retailer in the case, the May Department Stores Co., settled with Packard and the cashmere institute in 1998 for an undisclosed amount of money and an agreement to follow a certain cashmere testing protocol.
This story first appeared in the November 5, 2002 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.