Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

The Battle for Billionaire; Flavio Briatore, F1 Boss, Playboy and Tycoon, Is Being Taken to Court by His Tailor, the Designer Behind the Lavish Billionaire Fashion Label. Dominic Midgley Charts How the Partners Went from Cashmere Suits to an Ugly Lawsuit

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

The Battle for Billionaire; Flavio Briatore, F1 Boss, Playboy and Tycoon, Is Being Taken to Court by His Tailor, the Designer Behind the Lavish Billionaire Fashion Label. Dominic Midgley Charts How the Partners Went from Cashmere Suits to an Ugly Lawsuit

Article excerpt

Byline: Dominic Midgley

$omething is afoot in the world of [pounds sterling]1,000 stingray- skin belts and solid gold-buttoned denim jeans. Flavio Briatore, the priapic Italian businessman, chairman of Queens Park Rangers and motor-racing boss who was recently blackballed from Formula 1 following a race-fixing scandal, has suffered another blow, this time to his luxury menswear company, Billionaire Italian Couture, billed as the label for billionaires who really want to look (and spend) like billionaires.

The trouble is Angelo Galasso, who has been working with Briatore as head designer at Billionaire for the last four years. With their leathery tans and brooding basilisk stares, the pair look strangely similar, but are now communicating only through lawyers. Galasso has filed a personal claim for damages, shares, unpaid fees and costs against Briatore in the High Court.

And as happens with all marriages that end in divorce, the friends will have to be divided up, too. Galasso loyalists include the actor Roger Moore and socialite Tara Palmer- Tomkinson, while Team Briatore includes Paris Hilton - who once described Briatore as 'the most classiest playboy ever' - his ex Naomi Campbell and, improbably enough, Formula 1 tycoon Bernie Ecclestone.

At the centre of the dispute is a range of clothing that has attracted controversy ever since it launched in 2005. Briatore promised 'an extreme brand of luxury sartorial men's fashion, which at times goes overboard, whilst still remaining refined'. And he certainly delivered. There were crocodile-skin jackets, full-length cashmere coats with mink collars, those jeans with their 24-carat fittings that came packed in humidors to keep them soft, shirts featuring a cavallotto (little horse) - a flap of material that fastens under the crotch to keep the tails in place - and belts in every animal skin imaginable. All, naturally, at reassuringly high prices. The accessories were pretty eye-watering, too. A bright purple ostrich-skin weekend bag for more than [pounds sterling]20,000 and a black crocodile-skin umbrella for [pounds sterling]32,000.

As one fashion commentator put it: 'It's oldtime Italian gangster meets lottery winner chic.' While for Briatore, his clothes 'place men at the centre of a new world'.

The relationship between Briatore, 59, and Galasso, 51, dates back to late 2003 when Galasso was riding high on the back of the success of his 'watch-cuff shirt' - a man's shirt that incorporates an aperture on the left cuff, allowing the watch face to be seen without pulling up the sleeve. One watch buff described it as 'a key contribution to the canon' and it was honoured with a spot at London's Design Museum. When Puff Daddy wore one to the MTV Music Video Awards in 2002 he was called 'Cuff Daddy'.

Galasso effectively became Briatore's personal tailor and the F1 boss could soon be seen sporting creations from his new friend's chain Interno 8, named after the number of the apartment where he set up his first atelier. The pair's mutual admiration knew no bounds. Galasso once said: 'With Flavio I see someone who is proud and powerful.'

It was in the autumn of 2004 that Briatore suggested they go into business. He invited Galasso to a meeting at his house in Oxfordshire and proposed that they set up a joint venture to create and develop 'a new worldwide luxury brand of haute couture gentlemen's clothing and accessories'. The plan was that he would supply the seed capital and occasional strategic advice, while Galasso would design the range and run the business on a day-to-day basis.

Galasso liked the idea and they met again to thrash out the details. According to the claim form he has lodged with the High Court, they agreed that Briatore would have a 51 per cent controlling interest and the designer the remaining 49 per cent. In addition, Galasso would be paid [pounds sterling]8,000 a month plus expenses and his business manager, Carlotta Valenti, would have a salary of [pounds sterling]5,000 a month. …

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