Three years ago, designer Sandra Garratt lost her first fashion gold mine- a modular clothing line called Units-after a nasty battle with investors over the direction of the company. She sold her interest for $75,000 (Units has since become an international retail chain with sales in excess of $90 million) and began cleaning houses to make ends meet. Garratt bounced back in 1986 with an agreement to produce a similar line. Multiples, through local clothing manufacturer Jerell Inc. in exchange for a royalty on sales. Now she’s a millionaire-and she’s in court again, claiming the company has railed to pay all her royalties, has usurped her creative control, and has “bastardized the concept” by producing knock-offs and selling them alongside the Multiples line.
The Sandra Garratt of late looks less like the hapless artist of the post-Units days and more like a savvy businesswoman. She’s hired image consultant David Margulies to puff her reputation while the suit is pending, and with his help Garratt has told her story to The New York Times. The Wall Street Journal, the Today show, and Good Morning America, among others. A videotape on Sandra and her work is ready in case local television stations (or Oprah, or Phil) come calling.
Jerell president Jerry Frank-el fears the publicity will hurt the Multiples line, which has been the golden goose for Jerell. Sales of Multiples ran to $100 million last year, accounting for more than half of the company’s business. “She could have kept it in the family,” he says. But if Garratt wants to play chicken in the media, Frankel’s ready: he hired Tracy-Locke to do his image polishing and began firing off his own salvos: “Sandra’s damn lucky to be making the money she is,” he told The Wall Street Journal.
Garratt says she’d like to salvage her business relationship with Frankel (“We don’t have to like each other to be in business together”), but critics accuse her of using the lawsuit as a means to her own end. The barrage of publicity just happens to coincide with the launching of her new Activewear collection, debuting this month. But lawsuits last longer than swimsuits. By the time Garratt v. Jerell is settled in court, the whole modular dressing movement may seem as passe as mood rings.