VERSACE SUES LONDON PAPER FOR LIBEL
Byline: Sara Gay Forden
MILAN — Gianni Versace SpA has filed a libel suit in a London court against the Independent on Sunday newspaper, the fashion house said Tuesday.
The suit is in response to an article in the Independent on Oct. 23 that Versace called “completely untrue and grossly defamatory.”
Versace is seeking a full retraction and apology from the newspaper, as well as “substantial damages,” the company said in a statement.
Although the exact amount of damages being sought has yet to be determined, the figure is expected to be “several hundred thousand pounds,” according to a legal source familiar with the filing.
The suit names Newspaper Publishers PLC, the owner of the Independent on Sunday, as well as editor Iain Jack and journalist Fiammetta Rocco, who wrote the story.
As reported, the article — entitled “Would You Buy a Dress From This Man?” — questioned the business viability of the fashion house, asking whether its revenues were really enough to support its expensive, star-studded image, its expanding chain of boutiques, and what it described as the extravagant lifestyle of designer Gianni Versace.
The story made reference “to frequent rumors that Versace is somehow linked to the Mafia,” although it never supported that allegation.
It also suggested that the privately owned house fails to provide detailed information about its financial operations and insinuated that there is confusion about how the numbers add up.
“The combination of gangster clothes, wildly extravagant lifestyle and near-empty shops only fuels the curiosity of those who ask how he makes his money,” the article said.
On Tuesday, a spokesman for the Independent on Sunday said the paper had just been notified of the suit and therefore would have no comment.
“The article contains factual error after factual error, which even the most simple journalist’s inquiry should have revealed,” said Santo Versace, chief executive of the fashion house, in the statement. “Versace is accused of failing to disclose company balance sheets despite the fact that, not only is such information filed by us and made publicly available by the Italian Chamber of Commerce, it is also provided by us to the press upon request,” he went on. “The malicious allegations made in the article are pure fiction,” Versace continued, a reference to the comments about the Mafia. “We will have no difficulty in proving this and are confident that the English courts will clean these unpleasant falsehoods from our name.
“It will certainly not interfere for one second with our work to continue the great creative and commercial success of the Versace fashion business,” the statement concluded.
Michael Hart of London’s Baker & McKenzie law firm, who is representing Versace, said it would probably take several months before a trial date is set.
“Both sides have to exchange written pleadings, then there is the discover stage, and then we can have an estimated trial date,” he said, noting that the whole process could take at least eight months.
Under U.K. libel laws, the complainant is required to prove that his or her reputation and standing was falsely damaged, but does not have to prove malicious intent, as is required in some libel cases under U.S. law.