PARIS (BLOOMBERG) - The owner of brands such as Gucci and Balenciaga thought it could pay the king of skinny jeans less than US$1 million (S$1.3 million) for his last year at Saint Laurent. They were wrong.
In designer Hedi Slimane's lawsuit against luxury group Kering, a French court ruled last week that he had been underpaid by as much as €9.3 million (S$15 million) after taxes for his last year of service. In 2016, the 49-year-old had been paid less than €667,000 even after sales at Kering's Yves Saint Laurent division roughly tripled during the four years he was creative director.
The ruling opens a window into the lucrative contracts star designers get for their sought-after input in the fashion industry. At Saint Laurent, Slimane had a clause guaranteeing compensation after taxes of at least €10 million a year, mostly through an agreement to buy shares in the company and sell them back at a higher price, according to the March 28 Paris Commercial Court ruling.
Before joining Saint Laurent, Slimane had established his reputation as one of fashion's most bankable designers during a stint at LVMH's Dior Homme, where he set the agenda for menswear for more than a decade by bringing back skinny jeans and equally narrow suits. Earlier this year, LVMH said it had rehired Hedi Slimane to take over as creative director of its Celine label.
Slimane's departure from Saint Laurent in 2016 turned into a messy divorce, with Kering and the designer fighting over issues including a €10 million payment for his non-compete clause, which the company had attempted to waive, and an intellectual property case over his photographs in Saint Laurent's online archive.
A spokesman for Kering said the company planned to appeal against the decision, but declined to comment further. Slimane's lawyer Herve Temime said his client would not issue a statement on the case.
During four years at the iconic fashion house founded by Yves Saint Laurent, Slimane shortened the brand name to "Saint Laurent", moved its studio from Paris to Los Angeles, revamped stores with a slick, monochromatic look and line-up of products inspired by rock-and-roll and youth culture. Black-and-white ad campaigns were shot by the designer himself. Lady Gaga was a big fan.
Saint Laurent's sales crossed the €1 billion mark in 2016, with products from Slimane's tenure like the US$3,000 "Sac de Jour" handbag continuing to fly off shelves even as the designer was replaced by Belgian designer Anthony Vaccarello.
This is not the first time Kering has tangled in court with one of its creative chiefs. In 2014 the company's Balenciaga division sued its former designer Nicolas Ghesquiere, who had gone on to become womenswear creative director at LVMH's Louis Vuitton, for making critical remarks about the brand's management in a fashion magazine.