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Flattery or theft? 5 fashion lawsuits to remember

By Marjorie van Elven


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Car-Freshner Corporation has settled its lawsuit against Balenciaga this week. The US-based company, best known for the “little tree” air freshener, sued the French fashion house in October for selling keychains bearing a striking resemblance to its staple product. The terms of the settlement are confidential.

This isn’t the first time, however, that a fashion company finds itself in the middle of an ugly legal battle. Nor will it be the last. Plagiarism accusations abound in the fashion industry, which is why FashionUnited has taken a look back at some of the most remarkable plagiarism accusations in recent years.

Moschino vs. Rime

Graffiti artist Joseph Tierney, who goes by the name of Rime, filed a lawsuit against Moschino’s Creative Director Jeremy Scott in 2015. Rime claimed Scott reproduced the artwork from a mural he made in Detroit in 2012 on designs for Moschino’s Autumn/Winter 2015 collection, “without his knowledge or consent”. The same artwork was featured on the dress worn by singer Katy Perry at the MET Gala that year. The case was settled one year later, but the financial agreements between the two parties were not disclosed to the public.

Allbirds wool sneaker on the left, Steve Madden "Traveler" sneaker on the right

Allbirds vs. Steve Madden

Sustainable footwear company Allbirds has been enjoying a major hype: the San Francisco-based startup has sold more than a million pairs of its minimalist woolen sneakers in just three years. It’s only natural that other brands would want a piece of that cake. In December 2017 Allbirds filed a trade dress infringement lawsuit against Steve Madden for allegedly copying their shoe design. “A billion-dollar business has taken a stab at our very livelihood and mission that we are on, and we felt like it was wrong”, said Allbirds co-founder Tim Brown to Business of Fashion at the time. How ironic is it that now Allbirds is a billion-dollar company too? If another brand ever launches similar-looking sneakers, Allbirds will no longer be able to use the David vs. Goliath discourse. The two companies reached an undisclosed agreement in March 2018.

Burberry vs. Target

Burberry is best known for its trademark check pattern in brown, red, white and black. The problem is countless other (more affordable) brands have reproduced the pattern. But the British luxury label is having none of it and decided to crack down on the copycats -- one of them being Target, the massive American retailer. In May, 2018, Burberry sued Target Corporation and Target Brands, Inc., accusing them of selling numerous products featuring Burberry’s signature check pattern, including apparel, eyewear, luggage and scarves. The two companies settled the trademark dispute in October.

Burberry also launched a 2 million-dollar lawsuit against J.C Penney two years prior. The reason? Jackets, coats and scarves carrying the famous plaid, of course. The lawsuit was also settled out of court.

Puma vs. Dolce & Gabbana

This is probably one of the funniest fashion stories of 2018. Puma sued Dolce & Gabbana over a pair of slippers adorned with a mink fur strap, claiming they were a rip-off of a product from their collaborative collection with Rihanna, which featured a faux fur strap. Dolce & Gabbana argued that their slippers were intended for a different target group, hence the use of real fur which is much more expensive. What’s so funny about it? According to the higher regional court in Munich, where the lawsuit was filed, Dolce & Gabbana only sold three pairs of the expensive slippers, of which two were bought by test buyers from Puma. Judge Gunnar Cassardt said “we believe there is no infringement or competition”.

Marc Jacobs vs. Nirvana

Marc Jacobs decided to surf the waves of 1990s nostalgia by reintroducing his famous grunge collection from 1992. However, not everyone was happy with the re-launch: alternative rock band Nirvana filed a lawsuit against the fashion label for using its trademark smiley face logo, created by frontman Kurt Cobain in 1991. While other retailers such as Target and Urban Outfitters have been selling T-shirts featuring Nirvana’s smiley face for years, the difference is that Marc Jacobs did not pay a license fee to use the band’s intellectual property.

Lawyers for Marc Jacobs filed a dismissal, arguing that Nirvana is not the legitimate owner of the logo in question. Since the logo was created by Cobain, Marc Jacobs argues that the logo belongs to his widow courtney Love and daughter Frances Bean Cobain, who both gave the collection a green light. Jacobs also said the fact the smiley face has an M and a J instead of Xs as eyes makes his smiley face completely different. The battle is still ongoing.

Pictures: courtesy of Balenciaga; Car-Freshner Corporation website; Clint Spaulding/Patrick McMullan from Artnet News; Allbirds Facebook; Steve Madden website; Target website; Puma Facebook; D&G Facebook; Marc Jacobs website

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Picture:Andrew H. Walker / Getty Images North America / AFP

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