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Fair Isle designer happy with Chanel apology

Mati Ventrillon, whose design was used without credit by Chanel. Photo: Dave Cox Photography

A FAIR Isle-based knitwear designer whose work was copied by Chanel has said she is content with the fashion house’s apology and says the matter has been “resolved in a professional way”.

Mati Ventrillon, who has been running her own garment business in Fair Isle for the past three years, said she was “surprised” to see a photograph with a design featuring “quite striking similarities” with her work.

Chanel visited Fair Isle and bought seven garments from her this summer, and she had been happy to sell the items “with the understanding that the garments were for research”.

But when Chanel’s Metiers d’Art collection made its catwalk debut in Rome last week, she spotted in a photograph that the fashion label had made close replicas of her own designs.

After several articles criticised its copycat behaviour, Chanel apologised to Ventrillon and acknowledged her work was the “source of inspiration” for the design.

Ventrillon said on Tuesday afternoon that she was happy with how Chanel had handled the situation.

“Their reply was immediate and they looked into it and they very quickly let me know that it has been an oversight from a junior member of the team,” she said, “and that they were prepared to put things right and that was reassuring.

“With that attitude, they are demonstrating that they continue to be supporters of small artists. It has been resolved in a professional way.”

Ventrillon's original social media post.

Neither she nor Chanel wished to address whether any form of financial compensation or settlement had been forthcoming. 

“I don’t have comments regarding that subject,” Ventrillon told Shetland News, while a Chanel spokeswoman said it had nothing to add to its statement.

The spokeswoman had earlier said: “Further to discussions that have allowed the parties to clarify this issue, Chanel will credit mati Ventrillon by including the words ‘Mati Ventrillon design’ in its communication tools to recognise her as the source of inspiration for the knitwear models in question.

“Chanel recognises that this situation resulted from a dysfunctionality within its teams and has presented its apologies. Chanel also recognises the heritage and know-how of Fair Isle.”

While the Fair Isle pattern itself is in the public domain – meaning it is not afforded the same protection as, say, Harris Tweed – the way Ventrillon put the design together made it her own intellectual property.

Several people responded to Chanel’s apology by saying it was not good enough, but the French-Venezuelan designer seems to be pacified by the action the fashion house has taken.

Ventrillon – an architect by trade – moved to Fair Isle from London eight years ago after spotting an advert from the National Trust, which owns the island.

She spent four years working with the Fair Isle Crafts cooperative before its dissolution three years ago, prompting her to start her own bespoke knitwear business.

Ventrillon now fulfils orders from around the globe, with the farthest afield, to Patagonia in Argentina, seeing her ship knitwear “from 60 degrees north to 60 degrees south”. 

In 2012 she was invited to contribute a design as part of Queen Elizabeth’s jubilee celebrations.

The piece was to be included in a black-and-white photograph, and she felt that if she submitted coloured patterns they might not show up perfectly.

She sought to produce a design mainly using Fair Isle – “I tried to be careful that I was not including patterns from Shetland” – and the garment became “really popular”.

When Chanel representatives visited this summer, they bought garments including a black-and-white sleeveless round-neck jumper and “the similarities are quite striking” with what was displayed on the Italian catwalk last week.

One of the Fair Isle-derived patterns that Chanel used without crediting Ventrillon. Photo: Dave Cox Photography

Incidentally, Garry Jamieson of Jamiesons of Shetland in Sandness said the same two buyers came to visit his company and he “refused to sell them anything”. “Unfortunately this is exactly how big fashion houses ‘design’,” he said. “Disgusting.”

Ventrillon has been inundated with global media interest since, and the attention may ultimately be to the benefit of her business.

“Chanel has been very open to discussions and has been very helpful,” she said. “I’m hoping for a very positive outcome.”

Asked if she felt there was a case for Fair Isle patterns to be afforded the same protection as Harris Tweed, she said it was a “very difficult question”.

“In one sense it’d be a very good thing, but I think Shetland needs to have a platform to support that movement. When you look at Harris Tweed they have a whole infrastructure capable of manufacturing for big fashion houses.

“If we manage to develop a platform here that can cope with that kind of demand, that will have the quality required, then I think it’d be a very good thing.”

But protected status without the infrastructure to back it up “can be detrimental, because you won’t have the capacity to have that name outside, and then it can just disappear, so I think it’s a positive thing, so far, that it’s not protected because that has allowed the patterns to have exposure in high fashion.”