Ever the crafty and creative designer, Johnson Hartig, the creative force behind Los Angeles-based brand, Libertine, known for its colorful wares, mixed prints, and bold graphics (all of which are hand screen printed - a technique Libertine pioneered when they launched in the early 2000's) has issued a response to a very similarly named Danish brand that has subsequently come onto the scene. Hartig launched Libertine in 2001 and has since made a name for his menswear and womenswear brand, showing at New York Fashion Week, stocking at Bergdorf Goodman in New York, Maxfield in Los Angeles, Colette in Paris, and Isetan in Tokyo - among other coveted stockists around the world, collaborating with major industry forces, and attracting the attention of an array of leading publications, as well as die hard fans that include Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Heidi Klum, and Karl Lagerfeld (who bought Hartig's entire collaboration collection with Goyard) - just to name a few.
Eight years later, Rasmus Bak, Pernille Schwarz and Peter Munch Ovesen launched their brand, Copenhagen-based Libertine-Libertine, in 2009, and they have been slowly inching into Hartig's territory (geographically, at least), stocking at Urban Outfitters and ASOS, and garnering attention in the U.S. from menswear sites like Complex, Hypebeast and High Snobiety. The brand even got a nod from Style.com, which said that men’s and womenswear brand's F/W 2014 collection "is delightfully colorful and graphic" and that the designers behind the brand "have been making their mark in some of the coolest international stores." Are they talking about Hartig's Libertine? Because it certainly sounds like it!
Thanks to the obvious similarities between the brands' names and the same key buzzwords being used to describe the brands' aesthetics, Hartig says the existence of Libertine-Libertine is causing quite a bit of confusion around the brand he has been building for the past 13 years: "I've had buyers call me and say, I'm searching for you and I keep coming across Libertine-Libertine. Is that something you did?"
The confusion is apparent from a "Libertine Spring/Summer 2014" Google search, which brings up a fair share of looks from both brands. In fact, the first 15 or so results on my search were for Libertine-Libertine. Hartig also noted that in the past, Libertine-Libertine has posted photos to Instagram and included his Instagram handle in the caption, further confusing consumers and buyers, alike.
Additional uncertainty stems from some of the designs themselves. For instance, the Danish brand released men's and women's sweatshirts that read "LIBERTINE" across the front for Spring/Summer 2013, as well as the tank top that reads Libertine as part of their S/S 2013 Holiday collection.
All of this confusion leads you to wonder: Why would any new brand want such confusion between itself and another, more established brand?
For those who aren't entirely up on how trademark law works, here is an example. You can't really just start a brand and call it Prada Prada. That would not fly legally. You would certainly receive a strongly worded cease and desist letter from Prada's legal team. And the same goes for Libertine, in theory, at least. One of the key differences here, according to Hartig, is that "Prada has a fleet of lawyers, whereas I don't. And half a million dollars, which is what it would cost to fight this in the U.S., is a lot of money for a company like mine."
Hartig's response to the brand with a similar name and aesthetic? Poke fun. The designer released a tee earlier this month, which has subsequently sold out at Maxfield in Los Angeles (more will be stocked - FYI). It reads "Libertine-Libertine-Libertine" along with an anchor motif, surely a play on the sailor hat that appears on some Libertine-Libertine garments. Hartig's statement: "As a reaction to a Danish company that has decided to call themselves Libertine-Libertine, we have started a new offshoot called Libertine-Libertine-Libertine. Its available at Maxfields in Los Angeles!!!"
All jokes aside, though, branding is serious business, as is intellectual property, which often amounts to one of a brand's most valuable assets. With claims of confusion floating around (the key inquiry in a trademark infringement action) and such a strong similarity between the two brand names, it sounds like Hartig has a pretty solid trademark infringement case on his hands, and it seems Libertine-Libertine's founders may be aware of this, given the fact that they are now going by the name LBT-LBT in the U.S. (They are still operating under the Libertine-Libertine name on their website and everywhere else in the world). Whether this regional name change alleviates any of the existing confusion is up for debate.
In the meantime, don't be confused. The two brands are NOT associated in any way and you can shop the real thing at any of Libertine's stockiest, which are listed right here. Hartig's closing thoughts on the matter: "I'm trying to look at the situation with compassion. It must be difficult to be a designer and really lack creativity."
We reached out to Libertine-Libertine's founders for a comment, but they are staying mum on the issue. More to come …