Melborne, Australia-based communications designer, Celeste Watson channeled two unlikely brands for a recent project. She combined the iconic packaging of Chanel No. 5 and the contents of Hewlett Packard printer ink. According to Watson, 22, "the project is a response to how absurdly priced household printer cartridges are and it aims to resolve the current discrepancy between the price of the product and its packaging." The designer, who attended Parsons the New School for Design in NYC, says that as a result of her work, consumers must consider the environmental, ethical, and financial cost of such supplies. You can read each color's ingredients after the break below. More interesting for our purposes, though, is the legality of Watson's project. You may know that the design of the Chanel No.5 fragrance bottle and its packaging, which debuted in 1921 (and have undergone some minor changes since then), are covered by trade dress protection.
A few quick things: Trade dress is a type of trademark law. According to the relevant case law, the definition of trade dress is broad, extending to “the total image of a product,” and it “may include features such as size, shape, color or color combinations, texture, graphics or even particular sales techniques.” Trade dress may be registrable as a trademark or service mark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO), but trade dress that is not registered may still be protected under federal law if the following factors are met: the trade dress does not serve a "functional" purpose; it is "distinctive" (either inherently or because it has acquired secondary meaning); and in an infringement case, there is a likelihood of confusion between the parties' trade dress.
Back to Watson's Chanel No.5 x Hewlett Packard project. Trade dress protection indisputably extends to the Chanel No. 5 bottle. Thus, the first question is this: Does that protection apply here since Watson's "Chanel No. 5 bottles" do not bear the iconic Chanel double C's logo? The answer is yes. Trade dress creates a visual impression which functions like a word or design mark, as an indicator of source. So, the bottle doesn’t need to have the trademark on it to be instantly recognized as the Chanel No. 5 bottle, and the same reasoning applies in this instance. Another question: Is there a likelihood of confusion here? It is typically a question for the jury, whether the average consumer would be confused as to the source of Watson's No. 564 bottles (aka - could they be Chanel or linked in some way to Chanel), and given Chanel's recent art gallery-turned-runway show (the setting of the Paris-based design house's Spring 2014 womenswear show was a makeshift art gallery that contained 75 artworks all drawn by the brand's creative director, Karl Lagerfeld), it is debatable. But the last factor, the likelihood of confusion, implies something important for our case: a legal controversy. I'm not sure Chanel's legal department will pursue this art project in court (and whether Watson has a strong claim for fair use, is also up for debate), and thus, Watson likely won't be forced to go up against Chanel and its age old trade dress. Lucky for her.