Today in Manhattan's Supreme Court, Naeem Khan faces charges of breach of contract brought against him by ex-staffer Lionel Geneste.
A former Halston apprentice, Naeem Kahn launched his eponymous collection in 2003. Since then, the 55-year-old Indian-born designer's clothes have appeared on Sarah Jessica Parker, Beyonce, Eva Longoria and more. He became a household name when Michelle Obama wore one of his gowns to a state dinner in 2010; the First Lady also appeared in Naeem Kahn at the 2013 Oscars.
Geneste (currently with GCK Partners, a communications firm that names Catherine Malandrino, Saks Fifth Avenue and Vogue among its clients) first brought charges against the designer in July 2009, asking for a total of $1.8 million.
Khan's ex-staffer claims he was unfairly terminated, as he tells the New York Post, for “becoming more associated with the Naeem Khan brand than Mr. Khan himself." Furthermore, Geneste alleges his former employer withheld hundreds of thousands of dollars in commissions (the Post reports the figure as $350,000) and defamed him.
From the court documents: "Beginning in July, 2006 and continuing to date, Defendant Naeem Khan has made false and defamatory statements concerning the Plaintiff [Geneste]. … The false and defamatory statements were made to a prospective employer with whom Plaintiff was negotiating for a position… The statements included, but were not limited to, statements that Plaintiff was incompetent, had no 'connections' in the fashion business, was deceitful and should not be permitted to work the fashion industry."
(In January 2007, Fashion Week Daily reported that Geneste had been hired as the EVP of global communication and development at Catherine Malandrino.)
Linda Fargo, Vice President of Visual Merchandising at Bergdorf Goodman, has been named as a prospective witness for Geneste in the court documents.
WWD has been live-tweeting the drama unfolding in the courtroom:
Ouch! I find it hard to believe that a designer who's reached Khan's level of success would be stupid enough to think he could get away with gifting a fake Birkin to a woman like Fillip, the Couture Evening & Fur Buyer at Neiman Marcus. But who knows?
And there's also this, which WWD deleted shortly after sending:
It's hardly a shocking revelation that someone in the fashion industry might use cocaine at a party, so why even say it? It looks like both men are trying to win this by way of character assassination: For his part, Khan's defense strategy is reportedly to "claim that Geneste has a pattern of dishonesty."
[Update 8/12: Khan and Geneste reportedly settled for $125,000 this morning, well below the $1.8 million the designer's ex-staffer had originally demanded. "I will give Geneste a fraction of what he wants, otherwise I want this thing full-on," Khan told WWD shortly before an agreement was reached.]