PARIS — A French appeals court on Friday fined Chanel 200,000 euros in damages for stealing a design from a local knitwear supplier, overturning a 2009 ruling clearing the fashion house.
The case pitted World Tricot, a now-bankrupt small firm that manufactured high-end knits, against Chanel and was seen as a test of the rights enjoyed by skilled artisans toiling in a luxury industry dominated by the big players.
World Tricot founder Carmel Colle was seeking 2.5 million euros (3.7 million dollars) from Chanel for alleged counterfeit after she spotted in a shop window a Chanel vest with a crochet design that she claimed was hers.
The simple cable design with black edging had been previously submitted to Chanel's studio and rejected, Colle claims.
In 2009, the Paris commercial tribunal ruled that Chanel had not stolen the design although it did order it to pay 400,000 euros in damages to World Tricot for breaking the contract.
Friday's ruling said that "a visual comparison of the original and the crocheted Chanel vest shows that the vest is a slavish copy".
Colle was in tears. And her lawyer Pascal Crehange said the judgment was a "recognition of the creativity of those working in the shadows".
Chanel immediately launched damage control saying it stemmed from a misunderstanding and underlining that it was the first case of its kind against the fashion house.
A former community organiser, Colle founded her company with help from charity foundations that supported her project to hire jobless women from an economically-depressed region of eastern France.
Soon she found herself in business with such top names in haute couture as Christian Dior, Christian Lacroix and Givenchy, providing high-quality workmanship.
The contract with Chanel however was a crowning moment for Colle and the fashion house became her main customer.
After she spotted the design in a Chanel shop in Tokyo in 2005, she complained to the fashion house directly.
Chanel soon after began drastically cutting down orders to World Tricot and finally broke away from the firm altogether. World Tricot is now in compulsory liquidation.
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