A handful of small silver-hued adornments have landed The Kooples and Guess on the receiving end of respective lawsuits filed by Chrome Hearts. The buzzy Los Angeles-based fashion brand favored by the likes of the late Karl Lagerfeld, supermodel Bella Hadid, designer/DJ Virgil Abloh, and Korean popstars, among others, is suing Guess for selling lookalike cross-shaped jewelry, and and the French fashion company for adorning its wares with buttons that look a whole lot like its federally-protected trademark in respective attempt to confuse consumers.
According to the complaints, which were filed in New York and California federal courts late last week, the 31-year old Chrome Hearts brand asserts that it “pioneered the idea of combining the look of rugged apparel with fashion attire to make fashion apparel and accessories.” With this in mind, “Chrome Hearts’ products are adorned with sterling silver hardware, including buttons and ornamental pieces” often adorned with a stylized cross design.
Chrome Hearts asserts that that very same cross design – which it has been using since the 1990’s – now appears on an array of garments from fellow fashion brand, The Kooples. As for Guess, Chrome Hearts asserts that the American mass-market fashion company is selling lookalike jewelry that makes use of another one of its protected cross designs. Both of the defendants, according to Chrome Hearts, are engaging in an effort that is “willful, deliberate, and intended to confuse the public” due to the “high degree of consumer recognition” associated with the trademarks as a result of “longstanding use, advertising, and registration.”
In other words, Chrome Hearts claims that consumers have come to associate the cross designs with its brand – and its brand alone – and by using those design on their products, The Kooples and Guess are likely to lead consumers to believe that their products are in some way associated with Chrome Hearts when they are not. That element of consumer “confusion” or mistake is the core of a trademark infringement claim.
Far from a coincidence, Chrome Hearts claims that both Guess and the Paris-headquartered The Kooples are “competitors and [have] copied the Chrome Hearts [trademarks] in an effort to exploit Chrome Hearts’ reputation in the market” and gain an unfair advantage by piggybacking on the established appeal of the brand and its intellectual property.
As such, Chrome Hearts has asserted trademark infringement and unfair competition, among other claims, and has asked the court to order The Kooples and Guess to immediately and permanently cease all use of the allegedly infringing marks, and to pay up a certain sum of damages.
As for whether this will be an easy win for Chrome Hearts, that certainly is not a given. Chances are, both Guess and The Kooples’ respective counsels will fire back and argue that the brands are not running afoul of trademark law because they are using the cross designs as decorative elements and not as trademarks (i.e., not as a designation of the source of the products, such as how Nike uses a swoosh on the side of sneakers to indicate that they are Nike sneakers or how many Gucci bags bear an interlocking “G” logo, thereby alerting consumers that it is a Gucci bag).
This distinction matters because in order for an alleged infringer’s use of another’s trademark to actually be infringing, the alleged infringer must be using the term as a trademark and not merely as a decorative element on a product.
A rep for The Kooples was not immediately available for comment.
*The cases are Chrome Hearts LLC v. The Kooples USA, Inc. 1:19-cv-03263 (SDNY), and Chrome Hearts LLC v. Guess? Retail, Inc., 2:19-cv-02797 (CD. Cal).