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Chanel apologises to Muslims for 'Satanic Breasts' dress

IT IS not often that the head of a French haute couture house visits the Grand Mosque of Paris, the leading place of prayer for France's 3 million Muslims.

When Claude Eliette, the chief executive of Chanel, went on Saturday to see Dalil Boubakeur, the mosque's rector, it was to apologise for putting a verse of the Koran across the chest of Claudia Schiffer when she modelled a new evening dress in Paris on 15 January. The affair was irreverently dubbed 'the Satanic Breasts' by the weekly Journal du Dimanche yesterday.

Karl Lagerfeld, the designer responsible for the dress, confessed to being shocked. He said that he understood the text was that of a love poem from the Indian subcontinent inspired by the Taj Mahal. Two other of Lagerfeld's recent designs are also embroidered with Muslim holy texts. The text on Claudia Schiffer's dress read: 'He whom God guides is well-guided, and he who is abandoned by God will find no one to put him on the right road.'

The affair threatened Chanel's exports to the Muslim world after Hasan Basri, the head of Indonesia's ulema, described the use of the words as 'an insult to our religion'.

Mr Eliette promised Mr Boubakeur that the three offending dresses would be burned. The fashion house, he said, had never intended 'to commit a sacrilege or to offend the Muslim community. In consequence, I ask the rector and the theological commission of the mosque to present my deep apologies to all the Muslim community and I promise to remove from our models the calligraphies involved. The three dresses and the texts will be destroyed by incineration'.

Mr Eliette said later the economic consequences of the affair were 'secondary' and that the mistake was the result of 'creative enthusiasm'.

The rector said he was happy with Chanel's apology. 'We are convinced of the good faith of the house of Chanel. They took a courageous and economically difficult decision. I promise to convey to the Muslim community the apologies and regrets of the fashion house.'