THE FASHION LAW EXCLUSIVE - Your “Made in Italy” sunglasses may not be quite as Italian as you think, at least not according to a strongly-worded new lawsuit filed against Kering, the parent company of Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent, Bottega Veneta, Brioni, and Balenciaga.
Selima Optique – which sells its own celeb-favored eyewear, as well as the designs of Kering brands, in its buzzy boutiques in New York, Santa Monica, and Paris – filed suit against the Paris-based conglomerate on Tuesday in a federal court in Manhattan. According to Selima’s lawsuit, Kering is employing a “bait-and-switch scheme” by “deliberately and falsely represent[ing] that their eyeglasses and sunglasses are ‘Made in Italy,’” when “in truth, their products, or substantially all parts of their products, are made in China, and (at best) shipped to Italy for final assembly and packaging, and then exported.”
To be exact, Selima claims that beginning in September 2016 – shortly after Kering launched its first global sales campaign for Gucci Eyewear after bringing its eyewear production in-house two years prior – Kering began defrauding consumers by “simply replacing the ‘Made In China’ labels [that come with affixed to its eyewear] with ‘Made In Italy’ labels” before selling them to wholesalers, such as Selima, or directly to consumers.
Selima alleges in its complaint that it first became aware of Kering’s potentially problematic manufacturing practice in October, when it received a package of YSL frames and noticed one side of the frame was stamped “Made in Italy” and the other was marked “Made in China.” As a result, Selima alleges that it contacted Kering about the discrepancy, and the company attributed it to a manufacturing mistake, saying the part of the frame with the China label was meant for a style of Puma sunglasses, which are, in fact, made in China.
Not mincing words, Selima maintains that Kering’s “misleading packaging and labeling,” which is reportedly aimed at “maintaining an air of luxury” around its brands and “justifying premium prices,” not only amounts to false advertising, unfair competition, negligent representation, and fraud. It also runs afoul of the strict Italian law that states that “only products entirely made in Italy (planning, manufacturing and packaging) are allowed to use the label ‘Made In Italy.’”
In light of such widespread “falsity and deception,” Selima has asked the court to allow a huge class of others affected by Kering’s alleged wrongdoing to join the lawsuit and share in the ultimate monetary settlement. As for who might fit into that pool of potential plaintiffs: All consumers and wholesalers that purchased Kering eyewear products “within the United States at any time from September 2016 to the present” and all of Kering’s domestic eyewear competitors to the lawsuit, as well.
Selima’s counsel opted not to comment on the matter, merely stating that its position has been set forth in the court filings.
A spokesman for Kering said of the suit, “Kering Eyewear denies all allegations made by Selima Optique, Inc.” The company further maintained that all of its “luxury products are made in Italy and are labeled in compliance with all applicable law.”
A Larger Trend?
Two things make the Selima v. Kering lawsuit particularly striking. First is the position of Kering's fashion brands at the upper echelon of the fashion totem pole - where, thanks to products' price points, consumers often assume they are made in traditional "luxury" conditions (i.e., made in their entirely in brand-owned and operated workshops in France, Italy, or the like). Second is the fact that the potentially hard-hitting allegations that Selima has lodged against Kering are likely not in any way limited to Kering brands. In fact, this alleged type of manufacture-import-relabel production ploy is probably quite pervasive, extending to many other similarly situated brands.
After all, Selima's suit was quickly followed up by the Guardian's recent revelation that Louis Vuitton makes all but the soles of its footwear in "well-kept secret [factories], their identity closely guarded" in Transylvania, Romania before they are "finished" in Italy and France. As noted by the Guardian, Louis Vuitton claims that its Italian footwear workshops embody “ancestral savoir-faire” in a region “revered for its fine shoe craftsmanship."
While both Kering and Louis Vuitton's parent company LVMH will likely point to one-off discrepancies in their supply chains to explain the allegations put forth in Selima's suit and the Guardian's report, it is difficult not to foresee a potential turning of tides when it comes to the blind adoration - and unabashed trust - for the claims put forth by luxury brands.
At the same time, however, the potentially more likely scenario is that nothing radical will change in the eyes of consumers at all. As Miuccia Prada - some of whose own label's garments and accessories bear tags that read "Made in Romania" or India or China or Peru - announced several years ago, it does not matter where things are made anymore. Or in her exact words, "'Made in Italy'? Who cares? You have to embrace the world if you want to live now.”
As Cathy Horyn wrote for the New York Times in September 2009, "Today, despite 'Made in Italy' promotions, a lot of manufacturing is done outside Italy — in China, Romania and dozens of other countries." And Luigi Maramotti, the chief executive of MaxMara, echoed this notion, saying, “It’s not a scandal if in 10 years clothes are made somewhere else — if we know how to do it. It’s very difficult to explain this to the world because it’s all about slogans.”
You may recall that in an interview with the Wall Street Journal in 2011, Ms. Prada predicted that "sooner or later, [luxury manufacturing will move en masse] because Chinese manufacturing is so good." That time might just be now. As for whether transparent labeling will follow is another matter entirely.
* This article - which was originally posted on June 18 - has been updated to include the following information:
Kering continues to deny all of the allegations set forth in Selima's complaint, and notes that "all luxury eyewear distributed by Kering Eyewear for luxury brands is manufactured in Italy and, for a small part, in Japan."
A spokesman for the brand told TFL that the "mistake" that gave rise to Selima's complaint "occurred in [one of Kerning's] logistics warehouses, situated in the Veneto region of Italy, where Kering Eyewear gathers all eyewear products before delivering them to their clients throughout the world."
In addition to distribution eyewear for its luxury brands, such as Gucci, YSL, and Balenciaga, among others, in that warehouse, eyewear for Kering's Puma brand, which does not fall within its "luxury" category, is similarly distributed from there. According to Kering, "Puma eyewear products, that are mostly made in China and which Kering Eyewear distributes as well, receive their 'Made in' stamp in this same Italy-based warehouse, according to the legislation of the country where they are meant to be sold - as some countries do not require a 'made in' stamp."
A spokesman for the conglomerate continued on to state: "By mistake, 21 pieces of 'Made in Italy' luxury eyewear that were already stamped 'Made in Italy' also received a 'Made in China' stamp that was dedicated to Puma frames. Kering Eyewear immediately apologized for the mistake and offered the clients to exchange these products, and sent all due certificates to customers demonstrating that these products are indeed 'Made in Italy.' All customers accepted the exchange except Selima Optique, who had bought one pair of glasses."