Battle of the bra barons

There's a cat fight brewing over who is the mother of the latest cleavage creator.

Published March 28, 2000 5:00PM (EST)

Building a better brassiere has captivated and fascinated the world for decades. How to get those breasts to look just right. Conical? Underwire? Cross-your-heart? My God, something has to be done! We just can't have these things dangling down by themselves, can we? What are we, a bunch of apes?

In Scotland, the latest addition to the lingerie lexicon is called the Ultimo, a revolutionary gel-filled push-up contraption. In the past year its cleavage-enhancing properties have gained international attention. (Because, as we all know, breasts are timeless objects of pleasure and practicality, and you certainly don't have to be from Scotland to enjoy them.)

But despite its global appeal, Ultimo is also currently embroiled in a bitter power struggle that threatens to undermine the very foundation of gel-supported milk glands. The brainchild of a 28-year-old model named Michelle Mone, Ultimo launched last August and, after being quickly thrust into the lingerie mainstream, earned an estimated 10 million pounds ($15.9 million).

Contributing to the launch was a Scots millionaire named Tom Hunter, whose wife tried the Ultimo bra and apparently impressed her husband enough that he opened his wallet and bought a 25 percent share in the company.

A former model, a millionaire -- a heroic bra revolution, right? Not so fast.

Now, a Scots bra designer named Linda Taylor says that Mone ripped off her idea for the Ultimo. The gel-filled headlight harness is actually her design, and this is theft of intellectual property.

"Mrs. Mone knows that her public utterances on the subject are false," Taylor's attorney told the Scottish Daily Record. "She did not and could not design the Ultimo and she cannot design a bra."

Taylor has filed legal action against Mone for a share of the profits, claiming the model has been lying all along about the origin of the Ultimo. Her financial claim could exceed 1 million pounds ($1.59 million).

"Michelle Mone played not one part in designing this bra," insists Taylor, a veteran lingerie designer who has been around the bosom block for 30 years, and is not about to be usurped by an undergarment upstart, even if she has deep pockets. "I am not a glory-seeker. I want what's fair."

At the heart of Taylor's argument is Taylor's husband Clifford, who once worked as a consultant for MJM International, the parent company of Ultimo. Clifford allegedly showed Taylor's bra designs to Mone, who then pinched the idea for her own nefarious use. Clifford also says he was then fired from the company.

All of this adds up to one big mammary mess, and this week Mone issued her own statement: "The prototype which was shown to the trade prior to the bra's launch was produced without any input from her. No drawings, patterns or templates prepared by Linda were used by the firm."

If Taylor intends to proceed with legal action, Mone's lawyer says the charges "will be vigorously defended."

Whatever the outcome, it's certain that the wearers of the Ultimo, the men who appreciate them and the breasts themselves will not be affected.

By Jack Boulware

Jack Boulware is a writer in San Francisco and author of "San Francisco Bizarro" and "Sex American Style."

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