Backstage at Rick Owens RTW Spring 2017

Rick Owens is looking to defend himself in a New York legal fight.

Barbara Mariani, who helped establish the designer’s stores in Paris and London, sued FiftyFifty Inc. — which is owned by Owens and his business partner and creative director, Elsa Lanzo — alleging an attempt to wrongly squeeze her out of her 10 percent stake in the business unit used to set up the U.K. operation.

The suit, which seeks damages of at least $2.5 million and was filed in New York State court last Friday, charges “tortious interference with business relations and breach of fiduciary duty.”

But a spokesman for the fashion house noted to WWD that the action comes from a minority shareholder in the company’s Paris store and that, “We believe this lawsuit is totally without merit and our lawyers will be filing papers to have the same dismissed.”

The suit claims Mariani, “an American, single mother of three children” was key in opening the brand’s stores, first in Paris and then in London, receiving equity in both operations for her efforts as well as other compensation.

Mariani put in 18,000 euros, about $18,732 at current exchange, for a 9 percent interest in the Paris store, which opened in 2006. Two years later, she received a 10 percent stake in a company called Creature Development, which is controlled by FiftyFifty and was set up to establish the London store, which opened in 2009.

The suit said, “Mariani worked seven days a week, 16 hours a day, without holiday or respite, to ensure the success of the new London store opening, all the while maintaining spectacular sales in the original flagship store in Paris and traveling weekly between the stores to ensure both operations ran smoothly and to share and foster important client relationships she had formed over the years.”

Mariani said she was asked to step away from the London store in 2011. The suit said, “She signed a termination of the consultancy agreement she had executed with Creature Development in June 2011, modifying her right to sell her 10 percent share at market value within ten business days, and held onto her 10 percent interest in Creature Development.”

She contends she was later asked to “gift” her stake back to the company “at a nominal fee.”

The suit said, “Lanzo’s demands that Mariani give up her interest in Creature Development were accompanied by a five-year relentless campaign to intimidate Mariani into turning over her shares.”

In 2015, Mariani received a letter from Lanzo claiming that Creature Development owed its controlling shareholder, the Owens and Lanzo-controlled FiftyFifty, $717,373 dating back to 2008 and 2009 promissory notes. The letter said that FiftyFifty applied for an allotment of shares to “satisfy the alleged outstanding loan obligations.”

“By the share allotment offer letter, defendant FiftyFifty sought to pressure Creature Development into offering an exorbitant number of new shares, solely for the purpose of squeezing Mariani out of Creature Development,” the suit said. “Such squeeze-out would allow FiftyFifty (and Lanzo and Owens and company) to increase their shares in Creature Development without requiring any additional input of capital from FiftyFifty.”

The letter indicated that Mariani would have to come up with 79,540 pounds to maintain her stake. She arranged to borrow the money, but said she never heard back from Creature Development or FiftyFifty on the matter and that the loans have not been repaid nor have additional shares been allocated.