The notoriously litigious Levi Strauss has slapped Kenzo with a trademark infringement lawsuit. According to the denim giant’s complaint, which was filed on Friday in federal court in San Francisco, Kenzo is on the hook for allegedly using its federally-protected pocket tab on an array of garments, including those in its recently-released LA COLLECTION MEMENTO N°2 collection, which is being fronted by pop star Britney Spears.
As Levi Strauss sets forth in its complaint, it began using its little red tab in 1936 when its then “National Sales Manager, Leo Christopher Lucier, proposed placing a folded cloth ribbon in the structural seams of the rear pocket. The purpose of this ‘tab’ was to provide ‘sight identification’ of [Levi]’s products.” The complaint goes on to state, “Mr. Lucier asserted that ‘no other maker of overalls can have any other purpose in putting a colored tab on an outside patch pocket, unless for the express and sole purpose of copying our mark, and confusing the customer.’”
Fast forward 81 years and Levi’s holds an arsenal of trademark registrations for the various tabs it uses on its jeans. While some of Levi’s federal trademark registrations make specific mention of the color of the tab (red, white, or black, for instance) and the content of the tab itself (“with the name ‘Levi's’ superposed thereon”), others do not.
The American denim brand is taking issue with Kenzo's use of small white pocket tabs that include the word "Kenzo" on them.
Levi Strauss claims that it attempted to address the alleged trademark infringement with Kenzo by sending multiple cease and desist letters alerting Kenzo to the alleged infringements, but the Paris-based fashion house did not respond, according to Levi's. The denim claims that Kenzo’s use of the tab threatens create confusion amongst consumers as to the source of the Kenzo denim and to “cause incalculable and irreparable damage to [Levi’s] goodwill and diluting the capacity of its tab trademark to differentiate LEVI’S® products from others.”
In short: Consumers are likely to see the Kenzo pants and think that because of the white pocket tab they are either Levi’s pants or potentially connected to the Levi's brand in some other way, potentially by way of a collaboration between the two companies.
Still yet, Levi’s claims that Kenzo knows exactly what it is doing. In addition to allegedly profiting from the goodwill that comes hand-in-hand with Levi’s pocket tab trademark, the denim giant asserts that Kenzo’s “conduct is aggravated by … willfulness, wantonness, malice, and conscious indifference to the rights and welfare of [Levi’s].”
As a result, Levi’s has asked the court to order Kenzo to immediately and permanently stop “manufacturing, producing, sourcing, importing, selling, offering for sale, distributing, advertising, or promoting any goods that display any words or symbols that so resemble [Levi]’s tab trademark as to be likely to cause confusion, mistake, or deception, on or in connection with any product that is not authorized by or for [Levi’s].”
Levi's is also seeking an unspecified amount of monetary damages, which will be determined at trial.
* The case is Levi Strauss & Co v Kenzo Paris USA LLC et al, 18-02106 (N.D.Cal).
UPDATED: This article was has been updated to include images of Kenzo pants and shorts bearing white pocket tabs.