The 79-year-old Canadian is accused of “a decades-long pattern of criminal conduct” in the United States, the Bahamas and Canada, prosecutors said. He was detained in Winnipeg on Monday.
Prosecutors in Manhattan said that Mr Nygard used the influence of his company and its employees to “recruit and maintain adult and minor-aged female victims” over a 25-year period for the sexual gratification of himself and his associates.
Many of his victims came from poor and disadvantaged backgrounds, prosecutors said.
They allege that Mr Nygard sexually assaulted some of the women and girls, while others were assaulted or drugged by his associates “to ensure their compliance with his sexual demands.”
He began his brand 50 years ago, with Nygard International starting out in Winnipeg as a sportswear manufacturer. Its website says its retail division has more than 170 stores in North America.
Yet this year a darker side began to emerge, with allegations of abuse.
He stepped down from Nygard International in February, after federal authorities raided his home in Los Angeles and corporate headquarters in New York, and major customers dropped his fashion lines.
The FBI searched the designer’s Times Square offices less than two weeks after 10 women filed a lawsuit accusing Mr Nygard of enticing young and impoverished women to his estate in the Bahamas with cash and promises of modelling opportunities.
Several plaintiffs in the suit said they were 14 or 15 years old when Mr Nygard allegedly gave them alcohol or drugs and then raped them.
The designer is facing a class action lawsuit in the United States alleging the sexual assault of dozens of women.
Fifty-seven women – including 18 Canadians – have joined the lawsuit, which alleges that Mr Nygard used violence, intimidation, bribery and company employees to lure victims and avoid accountability for decades.
Mr Nygard has denied all allegations and blames a conspiracy caused by a feud with his billionaire neighbour in the Bahamas.
His lawyer in New York, Elkan Abramowitz, declined to comment on the charges.
Join our commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies