Goth design god Rick Owens is in the middle of a legal battle with a part-owner and managing partner of two stores owned by the Paris-based brand. Barbara Mariani, who aided in putting the brand’s retail network on the map, filed suit against Owens’s company, FiftyFifty Inc., alleging that the California-born, Paris-based designer, his wife, and his business partner attempted to coerce her to give up her 10% ownership stake in the brand’s London and Paris stores.
In her complaint, which was filed in late December in New York Supreme Court, Mariani asserts that FiftyFifty Inc. is on the hook for a number of claims, including tortious interference with business relations and breach of fiduciary duty, and as a result, she is seeking upwards of $2.5 million in damages.
In terms of her equity ownership stake in Rick Owens' stores, Mariani alleges that she put up her life savings in exchange for a 9 percent interest in the brand's Paris flagship. Two years later, she received a 10 percent stake in Creature Development - a limited enterprise registered to Rick Owens in the UK and controlled by FiftyFifty - which was established in connection with the London store.
Mariani’s complaint alleges that several years after opening the brand’s Royal Palais store in Paris, she “worked seven days a week, 16 hours a day, without holiday or respite, [as a consultant] to ensure the success of the new London store opening, all the while maintaining spectacular sales in the original flagship store in Paris and traveling weekly between the stores to ensure both operations ran smoothly and to share and foster important client relationships she had formed over the years.”
After the opening in London in 2009, Mariani claims that Owens “abruptly” asked her to step down from her role at the store "despite its success." In connection with her role at the London store, Mariani claims that she “signed a termination of the consultancy agreement she had executed with Creature Development in June 2011, modifying her right to sell her 10 percent share at market value within ten business days." She opted, however, to hold onto her 10 percent stake.
She continued to manage the Paris location, but soon thereafter, Mariani alleges that Owens’ wife Michele Lamy insisted that she “give up, for nothing” her ownership in the London store. Coupled with pressure from Lamy, Owens’ business partner Elsa Lanzo “demand[ed] that Mariani give up her interest in Creature Development” and engaged in “a five-year relentless campaign to intimidate Mariani into turning over her shares.”
The complaint goes on to state that in 2015, Mariani received a letter from Lanzo claiming that Creature Development owed its controlling shareholder, FiftyFifty, over $700,000 in connection with promissory notes dating back to 2008. The letter said that FiftyFifty applied for an allotment of shares to “satisfy the alleged outstanding loan obligations. By the share allotment offer letter, defendant FiftyFifty sought to pressure Creature Development into offering an exorbitant number of new shares, solely for the purpose of squeezing Mariani out of Creature Development. Such squeeze-out would allow FiftyFifty (and Lanzo and Owens and company) to increase their shares in Creature Development without requiring any additional input of capital from FiftyFifty.”
The letter further held that Mariani would have to pay an additional 79,540 pounds to maintain her stake in the company, which Mariani asserts is a move “undertaken to unlawfully diminish [her] role [in the stores] and confiscate her equity shares.”
According to Mariani’s counsel, “Greed and jealousy at Mariani’s rapid success fueled an ongoing personal and business vendetta by Elsa Lanzo, Owens’ Italian business partner and creative director of the Rick Owens Group.”
A statement from Rick Owens, as provided to WWD, reads: “We believe this lawsuit is totally without merit and our lawyers will be filing papers to have the same dismissed.”