Fashion houses face off over talent

Fashion designer Laura Kim (with creative partner Fernando Garcia, both left) left Carolina Herrera in June to return to Oscar de la Renta for the autumn 2017 collection, a move Carolina Herrera (above) says is a violation of Kim's non-compete contra
Fashion designer Laura Kim (with creative partner Fernando Garcia, both above) left Carolina Herrera in June to return to Oscar de la Renta for the autumn 2017 collection, a move Carolina Herrera says is a violation of Kim's non-compete contract.PHOTO: NYTIMES
Fashion designer Laura Kim (with creative partner Fernando Garcia, both left) left Carolina Herrera in June to return to Oscar de la Renta for the autumn 2017 collection, a move Carolina Herrera (above) says is a violation of Kim's non-compete contra
Carolina Herrera (above).PHOTO: NYTIMES

NEW YORK • American fashion brands Carolina Herrera and Oscar de la Renta are in a squabble over young talent.

Carolina Herrera last week filed a suit against Oscar de la Renta, demanding that its new creative director Laura Kim cease working for the label immediately. Kim, 34, joined Oscar de la Renta in 2003 and left last year after being passed over for the role upon de la Renta's death in 2014.

She joined Carolina Herrera in February this year as senior vice-president for design, but resigned about four months later.

Less than a week after leaving Carolina Herrera in August, Oscar de la Renta confirmed that Kim and her creative partner, Fernando Garcia, 30, would take over as creative directors beginning with the label's autumn 2017 collection.

That was when the troubles began.

When she joined Carolina Herrera, Kim signed an agreement that forbade her from working for any direct competitor for six months after leaving the company. This meant she could not work on Oscar de la Renta's autumn 2017 collection.

But, according to Kim, she joined Carolina Herrera under the impression that Herrera would be retiring and that she would be offered the creative director position, but quickly discovered that Herrera had not been made aware of those conversations.

Three days after she tendered her resignation, Mr Francois Kress, president of Carolina Herrera, did, in fact, offer her the creative director post and a US$1-million (S$1.4-million) salary.

According to the complaint, Kim refused the promotion as Garcia had not been offered a co-creative- director position.

In her affidavit, Kim said Herrera had often intervened in her working process and did not like some of her designs.

According to her, Herrera told her: "Nobody knows you and nobody knows that you are here. I am more famous than you and have more powerful friends."

In asking Kim to sign a non-compete agreement, Carolina Herrera had been specifically concerned with Kim's possible return to Oscar de la Renta, not her going to other labels.

In an Oct 26 letter, a lawyer for the house wrote "Carolina Herrera has no objection to Ms Kim working for any fashion house other than Oscar de la Renta, Carolina Herrera's direct competitor".

The official complaint elaborated further, arguing that the relationship between the two houses is a zero-sum competition and that when one suffers, the other inevitably benefits.

The beef between the two labels goes way back.

In its responses to the Carolina Herrera complaints, Oscar de la Renta has asserted that its hiring of Kim "was part of a larger pattern and practice of poaching" Oscar de la Renta employees - according to the letter, almost a dozen have been recruited over the past few years - and accused the house of having "a record of unclean hands and unfair competition".

It named Raffaele Ilardo, whom Carolina Herrera hired as a replacement for Kim, as the latest example, saying he had made an agreement to join Oscar de la Renta before Carolina Herrera snatched him away.

On Dec 21, a judge issued a temporary restraining order that blocks Kim from continuing to work for Oscar de la Renta, at least until Jan 10, when she and the label's lawyers are expected in court to try to fight the non-compete clause.

But just two days later, the judge lifted the restraining order. All parties are still expected to appear in court on Jan 10.

Oscar de la Renta, in a statement to the Women's Wear Daily journal, said it looked forward to the court hearing. "Our intention is to defend ourselves vigorously against the claims brought by Carolina Herrera and we are confident that once the court is made aware of the full factual context of the actions of Herrera and her company that preceded the lawsuit, the court will agree that those claims are entirely without merit."

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 30, 2016, with the headline 'Fashion houses face off over talent'. Print Edition | Subscribe