BENETTON’S NEW SUITS: Italian sportswear maker Benetton SpA said Wednesday that it will pursue lawsuits against a handful of German retailers over nonpayment for merchandise. The retailers claim they’ve withheld payments because their sales were damaged by Benetton’s controversial advertising campaigns. Benetton says it’s just a “very straightforward legal case. We are taking 12 people to court for failure to pay for merchandise which they have bought,” a Benetton spokeswoman said. Benetton has already taken a beating in the German press over the clash, with one recent headline blazing: “Benetton System Breaks Down!” The first case involves retailer Heinz Hartwich of Kassel, who Benetton says owes $618,000 for merchandise. Hartwich has countersued. An initial hearing on Jan. 18 produced no decision, and a second hearing has been set for March 14. The issue has generated wide interest, as other court cases are to follow, and there are reportedly many retailers disgruntled over the Benetton campaigns. The Benetton spokeswoman said that Hartwich has had a nonpayment problem dating as far back as 1986, “even when Benetton was doing happy, cheerful smiling campaigns.” “It’s true that there has been a tough recession in the German textile and apparel sector, and it’s true that our distribution system is based on strong individual entrepreneurs,” the spokeswoman said. “But our advertising campaign is global, and our sales are up overall through 7,000 sales points. The 12 we are taking to court are making an extraordinary amount of noise.”

FOREIGN EXCHANGE: Retailers are border-hopping like crazy. The Gap is reportedly opening a freestanding store in Lille, in the north of France. Gap executives here would not comment, adding that the information that appeared in a French trade publication did not come from Gap France. Meanwhile, France’s Printemps department store chain said it is opening a 240,000-square-foot franchised store in Shanghai next month in partnership with Hong Kong’s Top Form International and China’s Yi Min Department Store General Corp. Printemps is eyeing other locations in China, including Beijing, Dalian and Chengdu.