Catfight on the catwalk and Gucci is losing

IF YOU close your eyes, Domenico De Sole sounds like the softly spoken Don in a De Niro movie. "So let them sue," he says, his quiet tones rising in a whispered crescendo. "I have nothing to fear. They will lose."

Mr De Sole, whose accent is suspended halfway between Lazio and the Lower East Side, is chairman of Gucci. He is small and dapper, with smiling eyes, a ferret-like quickness, and he speaks with considerable determination.

He will need it. Mr De Sole spent most of London Fashion Week away from the hospitality tents, fighting a battle from his Mayfair office against Bernard Arnault, chairman of the French luxury goods giant LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton, who is engaged in an intricate legal battle with the small Florentine luxury house.

The latest swipe in a vicious catfight that ranges one corner of Harvey Nichols against a large segment of Bond Street and Fortnum and Mason's wine department came on Thursday, when Mr Arnault announced he was taking Mr De Sole to court. The result of the case in Amsterdam, where Gucci's shares trade, could be the end of one of the century's more remarkable fashion revivals.

Mr De Sole hinted that he might retire if his rival wins. A close friend said Mr De Sole, who with his protege, the brilliant Texan designer Tom Ford, has transformed Gucci from a lounge-lizard has-been to the ultimate in late-90s chic, "would definitely consider his position".

Mr Ford, who is ironically a friend of Mr Arnault, is reported not to be happy with the developments, and if he leaves with Mr De Sole, there will effectively be no Gucci left.

The spat began last week when Mr De Sole incurred the fury of Mr Arnault by issuing 20 million new shares to his employees after the French company had secretly bought a similar amount itself and demanded a seat on the board.

Finding its stake diluted and emitting cries of "not fair", LVMH issued a lawsuit against Gucci, claiming the tactic was illegal. One of Mr Arnault's senior advisers said it was like "creating imaginary voters to win an election". He added that some other Gucci shareholders could also sue Mr De Sole.

In his only face-to-face interview with the British press this week, Mr De Sole told The Independent why he is using such extreme tactics.

"LVMH are suing me, but the other shareholders? Pah! Why would they?" he said.

"The only shareholder who wants to sue me is Mr Arnault. Now, I'm a lawyer, and you can sue anyone for anything. The question is whether you win. And I'll do my very best to stand up to LVMH."

His adversary, Mr Arnault, is described by some as "the Rupert Murdoch of the luxury industry". He collects companies like his customers collect labels. Under his stewardship his company has acquired Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior, Givenchy, Christian Lacroix, Kenzo, Moet et Chandon, Dom Perignon, Veuve Cliquot and Krug.

Not all the companies he now controls wanted to be controlled by him, and he reportedly has his eyes on Armani and Prada as well as Gucci.

The Frenchman's supporters say he has democratised the fashion and luxury goods industry to the extent that his labels, which were once available only to the chosen few, are now accessible to the middle classes. To criticism that he only cares about the bottom-line, Mr Arnault's supporters reply, in the style of Mr Murdoch, that fashion is a business.

"I think Domenico De Sole is motivated in large part by what he thinks is in it for him if he forces us out or forces us to make a full takeover bid," a senior LVMH official said.

Mr De Sole is listening attentively to questions in his minimal, black- and-white Mayfair office. The chairman looks very un-Gucci, conservatively dressed in one of Tom Ford's charcoal suits, a blue shirt and a red-patterned tie.

I ask him, jovially, whether in issuing the extra shares he wasn't just being a cheat. There is a silence. "A cheat?" he says, spitting out the "t". "About what? I am just protecting my shareholders. LVMH must make a proper bid, not a creeping acquisition which we and all the shareholders will lose out on."

By all accounts Mr Arnault sees his next acquisition as his next challenge. What about Mr De Sole? "My next challenge? A happy retirement," he smiles.

As William Nygren, the fund manager with the Chicago-based Oakmark Select Fund, which holds a significant Gucci stake, said yesterday, Mr De Sole and Mr Ford are a brilliant team, just like a perfect sports partnership. If one goes, nobody knows what will happen.

LVMH

The Brands

(All acquired by Bernard Arnault)

Christian Dior

Givenchy

Christian Lacroix

Louis Vuitton

Kenzo

Guerlain

Celine

Moet & Chandon

Veuve Cliquot

Dom Perignon

Champagne Krug

Chateau D'Yquem

Hennessy

Duty Free Shops (Far East)

Le Bon Marche (Paris)

Sephora Cosmetics

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Life and Style
Suited and booted in the Lanvin show at the Paris menswear collections
fashionParis Fashion Week
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Kara Tointon and Jeremy Piven star in Mr Selfridge
tvActress Kara Tointon on what to expect from Series 3
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
An asteroid is set to pass so close to Earth it will be visible with binoculars
news
News
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project