Lanvin Went to Court over Alber Elbaz's Ouster

Relations have been tumultuous at Lanvin since its long-time creative director, Alber Elbaz, was ousted in October. In addition to Elbaz threatening to sue his former employer for defamation, Lanvin employees have not taken the news well. According to reports, some of Lanvin's 330 employees are fighting Elbaz’s exile from the house, which comes on the heels of a 14-year tenure, and Lanvin's work council requested a face-to-face with the company's majority owner, Shaw-Lan Wang, who is responsible for Elbaz's termination. The work council noted last month that if Wang was not willing to listen to their requests, they would take their case to Paris's commercial court, and that is exactly where the two parties were yesterday. And today, we have learned that Elbaz will not be entitled to "any severance pay from the company."

The company confirmed in October that Elbaz was to exit the house after a 14-year tenure. Per WWD, “While the parties are likely to characterize the development as by mutual agreement, sources said the rupture came following disagreements between the charismatic Israeli designer and company principals: owner Shaw-Lan Wang and chief executive officer Michèle Huiban.” In a letter sent to all Lanvin employees on November 6th by Shaw and Huiban, they claimed that the quality of Elbaz's designs were to blame for his exit after 14 years, and that his "'aggression' towards management" and his "other grave and groundless accusations" against Wang were major contributing factors. 

Elbaz responded with his own letter a week later, addressed to Huiban and Wang, in which he expressed his "shock" at their accusations, calling the claims “unjustifiable” and blaming weak management and the lack of a marketing strategy and investment for stagnating sales. Moreover, Elbaz threatened to give a tell-all interview and to seek a legal recourse if they did not cease to “defame his name.”

The ongoing battle between Lanvin's upper management and its work council, a group of individuals who serve as representative for Lanvin's employees, following the departure of Elbaz has, in fact, ended up before the Tribunal de Grande Instance, a French lower court charged with hearing civil matters. According to WWD: “Lawyers for both sides duked it out on Tuesday, after the management of Lanvin launched legal proceedings against the works council to stop it from using the company’s e-mail and messaging boards to share information with members of staff regarding the designer’s ouster.”

According to the WWD, “the employee group [plans to] evoke its ‘right to notify,’ as it is concerned about the economic and social welfare of the company” as a result of Elba's ouster. The council alleges that Elbaz was “brutally” terminated from the company, and that the designer’s severance package could cost Lanvin between $27.5 million and $55 million.

In response, Johann Sultan of CBR & Associés, counsel for Lanvin noted that Elbaz is not entitled to any severance. He told the court: “There is no reason for Jeanne Lanvin S.A. to make provisions of any nature concerning Mr. Elbaz. There is no reason to pay Mr. Elbaz 20 million or 40 million. This is not credible.”

Sultan requested that Judge Pénélope Postel-Vinay suspend the council's proposed “right to notify” procedure, telling the court that Elbaz was let go after he held “advanced talks” behind Wang’s back to find a buyer for Lanvin and subsequently spoke out at the company’s board meeting. Sultan says, “There was absolutely no questioning of [Elbaz’s] creativity. This was just all about the big bucks.” Sultan also told the court that the work council had “misinformed and lied” to staff regarding Elbaz’s departure and the state of the company as a result. He asked the judge to order staff representatives to take down several documents posted on the company’s bulletin boards, including two letters written by Elbaz.

The parties are due back in court on December 16th.