There's no catwalk conspiracy against me, says Stella McCartney

Gucci's golden girl calls off fashion witch-hunt, denying claims that jealous rivals are out to destroy her

Stella McCartney - the Gucci designer, darling of the celebrity A-list and daughter of Sir Paul - took the highly unusual step of issuing a denial, through The Independent on Sunday, that she was the victim of a conspiracy conducted by jealous rivals in the fashion industry.

The latest twist in the designer's career comes at the end of a "difficult" few weeks, which culminated three days ago in reports that a public relations company had been hired by Gucci to seek out anyone spreading bile about their star player.

Until October, McCartney was a figure largely unsullied by the gossip and rivalries endemic in the industry. Most of her designs have attracted lavish praise and are worn by much of film and music's elite, including her close friends Madonna and Gwyneth Paltrow. Demi Moore, Cate Blanchett and Pamela Anderson, are also part of her inner circle.

Now, however, even the furiously over-the-top world of fashion must be having to pinch itself.

McCartney has been on the receiving end of an unprecedented series of personal attacks that last week culminated in feverish speculation about a "hate campaign" against her and doubts over the commercial viability of her business. She told the IoS yesterday that she wanted to distance herself from reports that Brunswick, a top PR firm, had been hired by Gucci to search for malcontents.

"I do not believe there is a conspiracy against me," she said, breaking a protracted silence on the recent unpleasantness. "I am not represented by Brunswick PR, and therefore surprised by this current situation."

It was a terse though rare statement and one that will do little to quell the frenzy of off-catwalk conspiracy theorising. This may have much to do with the sheer breadth of the cast-list that has made McCartney's woes one of the most curiously compelling shows in town.

Trouble began in October, when the designer Jeff Banks derailed her jolt-free run-up to Paris Fashion Week by calling her clothes designs "amateurish" and putting her success down to "pedigree" rather than talent. Mr Banks's remarks were reported widely, and followed the revelation that McCartney, 32, had been paid £6m by Gucci for a 50 per cent stake in her fashion company, Stella McCartney Ltd, in April 2001. Her salary was put at more than £700,000. McCartney's designs sell for between £250 and £1,000 each.

Last week, however, Mr Banks was eager to clarify his now notorious critique of McCartney. "I got misquoted," he told the IoS. "What I meant was that the presentation of her work on the night [the British Designer of the Year Award] was amateurish, it looked cheapand cheerful."

However, he stood by his comments about McCartney's name having helped on her fashion career.

In November, McCartney lost her key patron in the industry when Tom Ford - chief designer at Gucci, friend of her father, Sir Paul McCartney, and the man who brought both her and the designer Alexander McQueen to the company - announced that he was to leave the firm.

Then, last week, the accounts of McCartney's firm came under scrutiny when it was revealed that her company had lost £4.5m in the year to January 2003, which was double the losses of the previous year. Most worrying, sales of McCartney designs netted her company a meagre £434,000.

At the same time, the 19-year-old model Elizabeth Jagger - daughter of Sir Mick - joined the ruck, saying that McCartney was "lazy in her design". She added: "She's a bit full-on for me. She treats me like a sister. I hate that rock-chick vibe. I just don't hang out with other kids of rock stars."

Last week, however, the industry appeared to be closing ranks around McCartney. "The British have a complicated relationship to success," said Sally Singer, of the fashion bible US Vogue.

"They want to cut down to size anyone who seems glamorous, and Stella - with her father especially - is the biggest in line for that. Everyone's sales are down. It's a tough sector."

"The fact is she has done her training," said Nicola Wood, of the trade journal Draper's. "She does have talent. Gucci doesn't pick up someone just because of a name. It's still early days for her company."