Designer Stella McCartney is the latest designer to sue copycat footwear and accessories brand, Steve Madden, for copying. The item at issue: her best selling Falabella bag. According to McCartney’s complaint, which was filed this week in the Southern District of New York court, Madden has been “importing and selling a tote bag, that, although virtually identical in appearance to Plaintiff’s design, is a poorly-made copy.” McCartney goes on to very accurately claim that Madden “has on more than one occasion been involved in selling shoes that are alleged to copy the trade dress of well-known fashion designers.” You may recall that Madden has been sued by every brand from Alexander McQueen to Balenciaga - multiple times over - for its blatant rip offs of their designs.
Interestingly, McCartney’s complaint goes on to establish that consumers are likely to confused into thinking that she has in some way endorsed or is connected with Madden’s replication of her bag – this is he key component of a trademark (and thus, trade dress inquiry). Her complaint reads:
"The risk that consumers will be misled in this way is heightened since Stella McCartney is well-known for working with other￼￼s on collaborations to market garments incorporating key design features associated with Plaintiff. For example, Plaintiff has worked with Adidas since 2004 designing several high profile sportswear collections. In 2005, a highly-anticipated collection for H&M was produced and was a huge success, attracting considerable media attention and selling out within days of launch. More recently, Plaintiff collaborated with Gap. It is therefore entirely plausible that consumers will, on seeing Defendant’s Infringing Bag, mistakenly believe that it is part of a diffusion line for Plaintiff or is associated with or endorsed by Plaintiff, given its striking similarity to the Falabella Foldover Tote."
The court document also goes on to note that Madden’s copies (pictured, above right) are of truly inferior quality in comparison to McCartney’s original (pictured, above left). Case in point: Customer reviews of Madden’s knockoff taken from the brand’s e-commerce site. According to one review: “ I have not been able to wear the purse as the lining inside of the purse has the most ungodly smell. It smells like spoiled fish. I don't know how to remove the fishy smell without ruining the purse. Very disappointed.” Another: “Got this bag a month ago. It was pretty then but now it is falling apart! Do not waste your money.”
McCartney is claiming that Steve Madden’s conduct results in trade dress infringement, unfair competition, deceptive trade practices, trade dress dilution, and design patent infringement (yes, McCartney obtained two design patents in connection with the design). The British brand is asking the court to order Steve Madden to immediately and permanently cease all manufacturing, sales and marketing of the bag, and to award it a significant sum of damages in connection therewith, including profits Madden made from the sale of the infringing bag and attorney's fees. Ouch.