Fashion and music publications were quick to make a fuss about the Gucci frock that appears on one of this week’s New York Times’ T Magazine covers. The cover at issue depicts the back of a dress from Alessandro Michele’s Fall/Winter 2016 collection for Gucci; one that the Times’ fashion director, Vanessa Friedman described as “a hostess dress with fluted sleeves and with AC/DC sequined on the back,” on the heels of the Italian design house’s February show.
Particularly interesting is the fact that many publications have referred to the dress as the result of a “collaboration” between Gucci and the Australian hard rock band. TheMusic.com, for instance, states: “AC/DC's collaboration with Gucci was brought to light in February of this year by Gucci creative director Alessandro Michele who described the fashion line to NY Times as rock'n'roll Renaissance.” Music blog, Blabbermouth, similarly noted: “AC/DC's collaboration with Gucci was mentioned in a February New York Times article as part of the newspaper's coverage of Milan Fashion Week.”
Yet, a columnist for the Inquisitor suggests otherwise, writing: “Gucci has not announced an official collaboration with AC/DC.” Writing for the Inquisitor, Victoria Miller elaborates, stating: “AC/DC is not exactly known for their licensing deals, which makes the dress even more unusual as far as rock merchandise goes. In 2008, Columbia Records chairman Steve Barnett told the New York Times the band was more interested in preserving their long-term interests than cashing in for a quick payday.”
Well, it turns out, the dress is a result of an official collaboration between Gucci and AC/DC. According to a statement provided to TFL from Gucci's intellectual property director, "This is indeed an official collaboration that happened between GUCCI and AC/DC. Therefore, AC/DC duly authorized Gucci’s use of the registered trademark 'AC/DC' for our Fashion Show and Women Collection F/W 2016-2017." Moreover, Gucci is "extremely happy about this successful collaboration we negotiated with AC/DC that turned out to be very well received."
The purpose of such an official collaboration? Well, it allows Gucci to use the AC/DC logo without any potential trademark infringement liability. The legal background is as follows: AC/DC, which was formed in November 1973 by brothers Malcolm and Angus Young, holds the rights in its name and the specific stylization of its name in accordance with trademark law. The group has trademark registrations in – at least –Australia, the U.S., and the European Union, the latter of which consists of the following 28 member states: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Republic of Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and the UK.
As such, AC/DC has the exclusive right to use its name and logo in connection with the sale of an array of goods and services – including apparel – in the aforementioned places. Any unauthorized uses of the AC/DC name or logo by third parties in a manner that would likely confuse consumers as to the source of the goods and/or services (the key inquiry in a trademark infringement action) would be deemed trademark infringement.
In accordance with U.S. law, AC/DC has even greater rights. Because the AC/DC logo is famous, the group likely also has the power to file suit in connection with unauthorized uses of its trademarks in any class of goods/services (even ones for which it does not maintain federal registrations) and even where there is not a likelihood of confusion under the doctrine of trademark dilution. As you may know, trademark dilution is the weakening of a famous mark's ability to identify and distinguish goods or services, regardless of competition in the marketplace or the likelihood of confusion.
Gucci has been able to pre-empt any potential issues by teaming up with the rock band in advance. And in many ways, the timing of the Gucci design and the T magazine cover couldn’t be better if you consider the group’s current world tour. With no brands being hotter at the moment than Gucci and Vetements (the two T mag cover stars), AC/DC has quite a bit to gain from the exposure and it seems this may have swayed them from their normal no-collaboration course.