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An artisanal Scottish knitter says Chanel ripped off her designs

German designer Karl Lagerfeld (C) walks the runway at the end of the 12th Chanel Metiers dArt show 'Paris-Rome', an annual event to honor craftsmanship that artisan partners bring to the houses collections, on December 1, 2015 at the Cinecitta studios in Rome.
Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images
Is all fair in fashion?
By Marc Bain
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

This post has been updated.

Among the highlights of Chanel’s pre-fall 2016 show in Rome on Dec. 1, was designer Karl Lagerfeld’s walk on the runway, surrounded by a dapper gang of rugged-looking guys in Fair Isle sweaters. This finale put the spotlight directly on the Fair Isle pattern, which Lagerfeld used a few times in the show, and—since it’s Chanel—immediately started generating buzz around the traditional Scottish design.

It also caught the attention of Mati Ventrillon, an actual knitter on the little island of Fair Isle, who accuses Chanel of copying her work.

In a post on her Facebook page, Ventrillon posted a picture of her design next to Chanel’s. “Earlier this summer, two Chanel staff visited Fair Isle and bought some of my stock garments with the understanding that the garments were for research,” she wrote. “I specifically said that I was going to sell it to them for the reputation of Chanel house and because I would not expect them to copy my design.”

When a commenter asked if it was her original pattern or just a sweater she made from a traditional design, she explained: “The patterns are traditional Fair Isle patterns but the black and white design and the pattern arrangement is my design. I designed that garment for the Queen’s Jubilee celebrations in 2012 as part of Oxford Street Fashion Flags Campaign.”

The image Mati Ventrillon posted on her Facebook page.

She also posted a separate image from Chanel that shows a sweater bearing a strong resemblance to another she makes.

Quartz has reached out to Chanel for comment and will update this post with any response.

Update, Dec. 8, 8:30a.m. EST:

In a statement to Quartz, Chanel said it will credit Mati Ventrillon as the source of inspiration for the sweaters ”by including the words ‘Mati Ventrillon design’ in its communication tools.”

“Chanel recognizes that this situation resulted from a dysfunctionality within its teams and has presented its apologies,” the company said. ”Chanel wishes to emphasize that the House is extremely vigilant in terms of its respect for creativity, whether its own or that of others.”

The sweaters appeared in Chanel’s annual Métiers d’Art show, which is meant to celebrate the craftsmanship of Chanel’s artisan partners.

Ventrillon’s accusation appears to have sparked anger among those in Fair Isle and Shetland, who feel their patterns and name have been too often appropriated by brands with no connection to their region in northern Scotland. Gary Robinson of the Shetland Council called it “exploitation” on Twitter.

Currently the Fair Isle name is not protected or geographically limited, which means anyone can technically make a “Fair Isle” sweater. But Robinson believes it should be, as is Harris Tweed, another traditional design.

“The best way forward would be to apply for the European Geographical Indication status to ensure products that are branded as Fair Isle knitwear are genuine, good quality articles made on Fair Isle or Shetland,” he told Express, a UK news site. “It would be a huge economic benefit for us, just like it has been for Harris Tweed, where the real thing, which can only be made on Harris and Lewis, is now widely used in fashion and accessories.”

Ventrillon says she isn’t sure what steps she’ll take next.

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