Peter Nygard, the former fashion executive behind a now defunct Canadian clothing brand, took the stand at a Toronto courthouse on Wednesday to counter what his lawyer called the “revisionist history” put forth by five women who have accused him of sexual assault.
Jurors would hear evidence amounting to a “clear, unequivocal and emphatic denial” of the five counts of sexual assault and one count of forcible confinement filed against Mr. Nygard, his lawyer, Brian Greenspan, said on Tuesday afternoon.
Prosecutors — with “some dramatic flourish,” Mr. Greenspan added — attempted to frame Mr. Nygard’s lifestyle according to their theory that he was “a sexual predator, a selfish megalomanic in what has been misrepresented as his secret and hidden cave.”
All five women described from the witness stand how they ended up in a hidden bedroom suite at his office building in Toronto where they said Mr. Nygard sexually assaulted them.
But Mr. Greenspan said that the defense’s evidence would “render the revisionist history which the complainants have provided inaccurate, unreliable and untrustworthy.”
He told jurors that Mr. Nygard had waived his right to remain silent to testify in his own defense.
The first portion his testimony on Wednesday morning, which was expected to continue through the afternoon, did not address the allegations but offered a biographical overview of his life and career. At 82, his distinctive flowing hair was white and was pulled back into a large low bun, with a pair of orange tinted glasses sitting on his nose.
Mr. Nygard’s family left Finland in 1952 to escape the threat of a Russian invasion during the Korean War and lived in poverty for years in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Mr. Nygard said, describing his somewhat meteoric rise into the fashion world through hard work, as well as some luck.
“By necessity, we had to work to survive,” Mr. Nygard said, recalling his job as a at a textile factory under difficult conditions where his mother worked as a sewing machine operator. “The only way that you could have this type of success is that you would just outwork the next guy.”
His company, which he founded in 1967, grew to 2,000 employees, competing with the likes of Tommy Hilfiger and Ralph Lauren, he said, popularizing a type of polyester that made him known as the “polyester king” and turned him into a celebrity in the fashion world.
Mr. Nygard said he liked to be involved in the minor details of his company’s operations, even approving the Phantom of the Opera music soundtrack for fashion shows and the design of storefront merchandise displays.
Mr. Nygard also said his company offered a wide range of perks, including bedrooms at his offices and warehouses for employees who needed to rest.
The bedroom in the Toronto office was “fondly known as the Finland Suite,” his lawyer, Mr. Greenspan, said, and was a feature of the building that the company shared in its promotional advertisements.
Mr. Nygard appeared at ease on the stand and even laughed at times. He blamed his inability to remember certain details on “short term memory loss.”
His obsession with his career took a toll on his first and only marriage, which ended in 1972, after three years. He never married again, he said, but, when asked by his lawyer, said he had relationships with other women.
“Of course, of course, I’m a human being,” he said, placing his hands on his chest.