The most famous example (or cautionary tale, depending on how you look at it) in fashion in regards to personal names as brand names is Joseph Abboud. The designer began selling menswear in 1987 under his namesake label and after selling off his brand was legally prohibited from using his name or "anything similar to or derivative thereof, either alone or in conjunction with other words or symbols" in connection with any new clothing ventures. A modern day example has come to light in the form of Adam Lippes.
The American designer, who worked under Ralph Lauren and Oscar de la Renta before launching ADAM in 2004, got a strong start. He was featured in every major fashion publication, scored several Women’s Wear Daily covers, and even a segment on Oprah. Nonetheless, after "the brand ran into difficulties", as Vogue put it, Lippes shuttered the label in 2012, and embarked on a year of traveling. Of this time, Lippes said: "I really wasn't sure whether the 'what next' was going to be fashion, but after about six months, all I wanted to do was design again." The problem: He sold a majority stake of his brand, including all of the corresponding intellectual property, to Kellwood Co., a St. Louis-based brand marketer, in August 2010.
The sale of the intellectual property, in particular, proved to be problematic for Lippes, as it included trademarks that cover "ADAM Adam Lippes" in the class of good that extends to clothing. As a result, it would be virtually impossible for Lippes to use his name in connection with nearly any brand without infringing Kellwood's trademark rights. According to reports from WWD, a non-compete clause (the exact terms of which were never disclosed) was also in effect between Kellwood and Lippes, further preventing him from branching out on his own. (Judging by his year-long trip, my guess is that it was a year long in terms of duration).
After the year was up and after what Lippes has said was "months of negotiating" with Kellwood, he was able to buy back his brand (aka the rights to his name, and according to WWD, he also bought his way out of the non-compete clause). He subsequently relaunched his eponymous label in February 2013. Of what most publications labelled as Lippes "second chance", the designer shares this sentiment, saying last year: "I feel so fortunate to have been able to start again, taking all that I learned at Ralph Lauren, Oscar de la Renta, Adam - the good and the bad, and being given a second chance to create."
While the Adam Lippes story appears to have a happy ending, especially since his Fall 2013 debut was met with rave reviews, it really should serve as cautionary tale for emerging designers both in terms of choosing a brand name, and in planning any partnerships and very importantly, any sales of stake in a brand. Others have not fared as well as Lippes. Michelle Siwy, the founding designer behind Siwy Denim, is currently involved in litigation after Los Angeles-based New Crew Production Corp. acquired the Siwy Denim brand in 2009 and Siwy subsequently cut ties with her brand in 2012. New Crew filed suit against the denim designer on the heels of the release of a capsule collection Siwy created with Wild Fox Couture, alleging that because the Wildfox Denim collection was been marketed as “Wildfox Denim by Michelle Siwy,” it was in violation of Crew Crew's intellectual property. Siwy Denim filed a trademark infringement lawsuit against the two parties in July 2013, as along with its acquisition of the Siwy brand, New Crew bought into all of the brand’s intellectual property, including the various “Siwy” trademarks.
Kari Sigerson and Miranda Morrison, the design duo that launched footwear brand, Sigerson Morrison, have experienced similar difficulties in connection with their ex-brand. In 2006, when the designers sought financial backing to take their $30 million shoe brand to the next level, Marc Fisher acquired 80% the label and the corresponding intellectual property rights for $2.6 million. Sigerson and Morrison each retained a 10% stake in the company and were hired as “co-heads of design” for seven years, and then were fired from the company. They are now prevented from using their names in connection with footwear.
The implications of selling a brand are rarely kept in mind at the outset (namely, when launching a brand), but if Lippes' story demonstrates anything, it is that early decisions can have an enormous effect later on and thus, are critical points of discussion from the very beginning.