French designer claims Hollywood stars failed to pay bills for multimillion-euro project at 17th-century Provence property
A French interior designer is suing Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie for failing to credit her for work on their chateau in Provence.
Odile Soudant also claims the superstar former couple drove her company towards financial ruin by failing to honour bills for a multimillion-euro project to illuminate the 17th-century property.
In April, the Paris court of appeal ordered one of the Pitt/Jolie companies, Château Miraval – named after the vast estate – to pay Soudant €565,000, including €60,000 for damaging her reputation.
Soudant told the Guardian the legal decision – first reported on Wednesday in Libération – had remained confidential until now because she preferred to keep matters private and had believed she could resolve the issue with Pitt amicably.
The French newspaper reported that legal documents show how Pitt and Jolie fell in love with the Château Miraval, near Aix-en-Provence, after spotting it from a helicopter while flying over the region.
The château, surrounded by vineyards at Correns, in the Haut-Var, came with several hundred hectares of land. It was here in 1979 that Pink Floyd recorded the celebrated album The Wall.
Pitt and Jolie first rented the chateau, then persuaded the then-American owner to sell it to them for €45m.
After moving in with their six children, they set about transforming it to their tastes and appointed a chief designer to oversee what one French newspaper described as a “pharaonic project” including installing a gym, a spa, a huge wine cellar and a motorcycle track.
In 2010, Pitt, a fan of the French architect Jean Nouvel (one of his daughters is named Shiloh Nouvel), asked Soudant to come up with ways to exploit natural light in the chateau and its adjoining buildings.
Soudant had worked for Nouvel’s architecture company in Paris where she had set up the ‘Lumière’ (light) department before creating her own company Lumières Studio in 2009. Soudant said she travelled to Miraval in 2010 to meet Pitt.
“He wanted to make it an exceptional place and believed that light should be at the heart of this,” Soudant told Libération.
She claimed she was given “carte blanche” to light four buildings on the estate, including the 40-room chateau. No contract was signed, but Soudant said she billed Pitt and Jolie’s company every month for her fees, while Lumières Studio carried out technical studies and the installations, all of which were tried out on scaled-down models at her Paris studio before being installed.
Soudant said she employed 17 people on what she called the “BP project”, including architects, designers, lighting and acoustic specialists and even an optical engineer to calculate the angle of the sun’s rays on the chateau.
Two years and a reported €25m later, the project was still unfinished with various contractors and sub-contractors passing the blame.
The French appeal court heard that Pitt had stopped paying Soudant and her company when his chief designer claimed she had billed for €4.9m. Judges ruled that this figure had been greatly exaggerated and that delays were not the lighting expert’s fault.
In her evidence to the court, Soudant said at the time she had no idea why Pitt had stopped paying her and that he continued to send her emails saying: “Odile, I need you. Come here please. I need you to finish.”
When her requests for money to pay her employees and contractors went unanswered, she said she was forced to suspend company operations.
Ten days later, she said Pitt sent an email saying: “I don’t know how things happen in France but in the United States, friends don’t attack friends. I’ve been nothing but a fan of your work. Do not attack. Let’s finish the project and be proud of it. The work is too good to end on a bad note. Life is too short, my friend.”
A second mail read: “Don’t waste time with legal action. Follow your artistic journey and don’t worry about the rest.”
She was awarded her payout in April, but Soudant said she is still fighting to be legally recognised as the creator of the lighting project at Miraval, which she said was handed over to one of her former employees after her dispute with Pitt.
“I am an artist and this is my work. When someone tries to steal my work it is something else,” she told the Guardian. “This is all very painful for me.”
She said the money the appeal court awarded her for damage to her reputation was “nothing” compared to what she had suffered. “Of course, people think Brad Pitt is right, that ‘he’s the good guy and she is wrong’.”
Hogan Lovells, the solicitors defending Pitt, told Libération the inspiration for the lighting at Château Miraval came from Pitt.
In a statement to the Paris court, an architect working on the property stated: “The lighting ideas came principally from Mr Pitt himself. He is passionate about architecture and knew what he wanted to achieve.”
Now divorced, Pitt and Jolie have decided to keep the chateau – where they produce wine and olive oil – as an investment.
Their first wine production of rosé in 2012 sold out in five hours. Since then, they have produced red and white wines making around 150,000 bottles a year, which sell for around €15 a bottle. theguardian.com