Judge rules against Cavalli's £1.8m of home improvements

The Italian fashion designer Roberto Cavalli has been sentenced to 14 months in jail for tax evasion, after claiming the £1.8m cost of refurbishing his home as business expenses.

Cavalli, whose customers include Victoria Beckham, Jennifer Lopez, Britney Spears, and Beyoncè Knowles, has denied any wrong-doing, claiming that the mansion is essential to his business.

His lawyer, Alessandro Traversi told the court in Florence that as Cavalli has always described his sprawling villa as the headquarters of his international label, he was justified in claiming the refurbishment as a business expense.

"It was fully borne out that the expenses in question were inherent to the work of the business, inasmuch as the designer's abode was an integral part of his company activity, besides being the prestigious showroom of the company, the place where events are held, photographic shoots conducted, etcetera," Mr Traversi said.

Cavalli did not attend yesterday's sentence hearing. He was on "essential business in the United States", his lawyer claimed.

Yesterday's sentence was immediately suspended because Cavalli, 65, is a first offender, but he intends to appeal against the verdict. "This verdict deserves to be reviewed," he said

Cavalli spent the money in a massive rebuilding project over four years between 1996 and 2000, adding two swimming pools, a gym and a helicopter hangar to the mansion on the hills outside Florence. "The house is not where I live. It is my studio, my showroom, my image, my fashion atelier" for clients like Madonna, Sting, Cindy Crawford and Jennifer Lopez, Cavalli has been quoted as saying.

Cavalli, born in Florence in 1940, won early acclaim for pioneering a way of printing on leather and became popular early in his career for his patchwork designs. His printing techniques have kept him in the limelight, but for the common or garden rock star it is the startling vulgarity of everything he touches, from his vast motor launch to his jewel-encrusted jeans and garish, skimpy and revealing frocks, that makes him irresistible.

For Florentines, however, ever conscious of their austerely magnificent cultural heritage, he has always been something of an embarrassment.

He described his most recent menswear collection as a "homage to the ancient oriental art of seduction and the grandeur of the composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart".

Last year, Cavalli announced an exclusive deal with Victoria Beckham, who often models at his fashion shows. "Women will call me saying they have seen Victoria wearing one of my dresses, and can they have one too," he said when unveiling the deal.

His designs sparked controversy in 2004, when an Indian customer at the Harrods department store in London noticed that a Cavalli underwear range bore images of a Hindu goddess.

Protesters from a Hindu rights group complained that the garments were an insult to their religion, and Harrods was forced to withdraw the range from sale.

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