Another Season, Another Artist Claims Gucci Copied

The Gucci revamp is officially complete. With its garments dominating all of the recent magazine covers and editorials, appearing in the majority of recent street style photos, coming in full force at red carpet events, and landing a significant number of the looks in Beyonce’s recent Formation video, the house also has sales growth to report. In case that’s not enough, artists are coming out of the woodwork attempting to claim some part of the brand’s success. That’s when you know Gucci has made it (again).

Case 1: On the heels of the brand’s S/S 2016 collection, which was staged in September, Fashionista reported that Bijules, a New York-based fine jewelry brand, and Jules Kim, the brand’s designer, kicked up a fuss, alleging that the Florence-based brand copied their nail rings. Kim told the publication that she planned to file a copyright infringement lawsuit to prevent the famed Italian design house from selling the rings, but one was never filed.

Case 2: Today, a bit of an Instagram war erupted on the heels of Gucci’s Fall/Winter 2016 runway show. Artist Sonique Saturday took to her Instagram to wage war against the Italian design house for allegedly “stealing” her idea for the “REAL GUCCI” bag that went down the runway, a collaboration with artist GucciGhost aka Trouble Andrew. The artist tagged the brand’s bags with some spray paint - at least one bag contained the word “REAL” on it. You may have also noticed a spray painted registered trademark ® on a jacket – giving the collection a slight legal undertone. It is worth noting that GucciGhost has been tagging Gucci-related items, including handbags, for roughly 10 years now.

According to some recent Instagram snaps, Sonique has written on counterfeit bags with tag lines, such as “Fake Hermes” and “You Fake Like This Birkin." She took to her Instagram today to rally the troops, so to speak, writing: “I woke up PROUD to see something I created on @gucci's runway. Too bad I'm not getting the recognition nor that check for @gucci stealing my creation. Go under @gucci & @voguerunway Instagram pages and let them know where you saw it first!” 

Legally, Case 1 appears to be far stronger than Case 2, in part because Jules Kim actually has a copyright registration for her ring designs. (Note: if I really thought Gucci was guilty of copying here, I'd say so. I've done it before). Sonique seems to be slightly confused as to the basis of copyright law, for instance, which holds that ideas may not be protected but the actual expression of those ideas may be, and in order for there to be infringement, the two designs must be "substantially similar," which is obviously not present here. 

Since copyright law does not provide a remedy for her, what about trademark law? Unfortunately for Sonique, that won't work either. It would be difficult to show consumer confusion (aka that consumers somehow believe that Gucci's new bag is somehow affiliated with her brand and her trademarks). This is the key inquiry in a trademark action.

In short: this artist seems to be reaching with her claims that Gucci has “stolen” anything, as they are not based on any legal principle. Instead, these individuals have likely identified an opportunity to gain some free press ... because Gucci, which was struggling in terms of revenue and relevant when former creative director Frida Giannini and former CEO Patrizio Di Marco were ousted in late 2014, is back on top and everyone is paying attention. Sonique has, after all, gained upwards of 200 Instagram followers from this mess. 

One last thing: If I were Sonique, I'd tread carefully in terms of accusing the house of "stealing" from her. That could lead to actual legal problems and Gucci would not be the at the receiving end of that lawsuit.