Carla Bruni wins damages for nude handbag

SAINT DENIS DE LA REUNION, France Thu Dec 18, 2008 2:00pm EST

France's first lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy attends the traditional Christmas party at the Elysee Palace in Paris December 17, 2008. REUTERS/Francois Mori/Pool

France's first lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy attends the traditional Christmas party at the Elysee Palace in Paris December 17, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Francois Mori/Pool

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SAINT DENIS DE LA REUNION, France (Reuters) - A French court awarded first lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy 40,000 euros ($57,500) in damages from a company that sold bags emblazoned with a picture of her in the nude.

The case was the latest in a series of legal actions over the presidential couple's image, which have drawn accusations of frivolity from critics of the media-savvy Sarkozys.

The nude photo of Bruni-Sarkozy was taken in 1993, when she was a professional model. She had asked for 125,000 euros in damages from Pardon, a fashion chain in the French Indian Ocean island of La Reunion which used it without her permission.

"The unauthorized use of the image of Carla Bruni caused her moral and economic damage," a court in the island capital Saint Denis de la Reunion said on Thursday.

Bruni-Sarkozy's lawyers had indicated that she would donate any damages awarded to charity.

The founder and manager of the Pardon chain, Peter Mertes, said he would appeal because 40,000 euros seemed expensive to him for "a small blunder."

Mertes said 10,000 of the bags had been made and about half of those sold before Bruni-Sarkozy took legal action. He promised to dispose of the remaining stock. Pardon does not trade in mainland France.

Bruni-Sarkozy, 40, rose to fame as a model before becoming a successful pop singer. Public interest in her has surged since her whirlwind romance with President Nicolas Sarkozy, whom she married in February less than three months after they met.

The nude image printed on the Pardon bags was in the news earlier in the year, when an original black-and-white print of the Michel Comte photo fetched $91,000 at auction in New York.

It shows the young Bruni standing in a pigeon-toed pose, covering her private parts with her hands.

The Pardon bags were on sale last week for 3 euros each. Customers were given a free bag if they spent more than 5 euros. They are now banned from being sold on penalty of 100 euros per bag.

The Sarkozys have repeatedly gone to court over image issues and regularly grace the covers of glossy celebrity magazines, prompting endless satire from French critics who say they are too focused on trivial matters.

In the latest case to make headlines, Sarkozy went to court in October demanding a ban of sales of a voodoo doll representing him. An appeals court said the doll was an "offence against the personal dignity" of Sarkozy but it would be disproportionate to ban it.

(Reporting by Bertrand Grollier, writing by Estelle Shirbon)

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