French designer in costly dispute over Pitt-Jolie chateau
A French lighting designer has won a $600,000 (Dh2,2 million) court ruling in a dispute with Brad Pitt over the re-design of the chateau in Provence that he and Angelina Jolie shared. But designer Odile Soudant isn't stopping there.
Soudant says her business went under and her career was irreparably damaged because of Pitt's refusal to pay for costly architectural reveries. She's now fighting for the intellectual property rights to the Chateau Miraval's lighting design.
Pitt's representatives argue the project was late and over-budget and the disputed lighting design was Pitt's brainchild — not hers.
Soudant's legal actions are the latest challenge for Pitt, who is in protracted divorce proceedings with Jolie.
Chateau Miraval is a symbol of happier times in the couple's relationship. They stayed at the sprawling 17th century estate when she gave birth to their twins in nearby Monaco in 2008, launched a successful wine venture from its rich vineyards, and married there in 2014.
Soon after they bought Miraval, nestled in the wooded hills near the village of Correns, Pitt sought out designers to re-envision it for the 21st century. Soudant and her company, Lumieres Studio, were tasked with the lighting, notably taking better advantage of the sunshine in Provence, she said. She called natural light an "obsession" with Pitt.
Unusually, she says she never supplied or was given a contract.
"I had unlimited time and unlimited budget....They said, 'If you ask for more, we'll give you more."
A representative for Pitt contests this, and says there was an agreement that Soudant didn't respect. The representative requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the legal process, would not say if the agreement was written or oral.
The renovation project grew with "delirious demands" from Pitt and more and more designers getting involved, Soudant said. She hired new staff and relegated her company's other projects to bottom priority.
She says she had 17 employees working exclusively on the lighting for Miraval at one point.
After 3 ½ years of work, the chateau stopped paying Soudant for her services, she said. Her staff continued working on the project, she says, and her bills started piling up, notably for government payroll charges.
Soudant contends she later discovered that Pitt was concerned with the project's price. "One day he wakes up and decides he has paid too much," she said.
Pitt's representative said Soudant was paid more than 4 million euros ($4.7 million) for work she didn't complete; Soudant says the figure is inflated, that every hour worked and piece of material used was financially tracked, and that no one explained the stopped payments.
"They sank my business," she said in an interview.
Facing potential bankruptcy, the designer sent a warning letter. In response, she says she received a threatening email from Pitt saying friends don't sue friends, and she was barred from the chateau.
Pitt's spokesperson said Soudant didn't get along with others working on the renovation and her presence "disturbed the work."
Legal proceedings ensued, and in April, the Paris court of appeals ordered Chateau Miraval to pay 565,000 euros ($660,000) to Soudant, including 300,000 euros in unpaid bills and 60,000 euros for damage to her image and reputation. Pitt was not a party to the proceedings, though central to the dispute.
Pitt's representative said the actor's team felt the court decision was fair. Chateau Miraval and its French lawyer refused to discuss the case, referring all queries to Pitt's spokesperson.
Soudant welcomed the ruling, but said it doesn't go far enough to cover her financial or reputational losses.
"I gave up everything to accept the work at Miraval," she.
Because Pitt considers the lighting his intellectual property, Soudant says she can't include the Miraval work in her company's portfolio. She started legal procedures this month seeking to establish her property rights.
"It's my work, my creations. It's like they cut off my arm," she said.
Pitt's team appears serene about the risk of a new trial. His representative said the star was closely involved in Miraval's renovation and has "personal drawings showing that many of the ideas regarding light installations came from him."