Fashion brands were in and out of court in 2018 thanks to fights over their names (and others’ uses of their names), copycat designs, employment contracts, and in a select number of cases, a whole lot of stripes and pocket tabs. It is against this background that some truly high-stakes fights were underway between everyone from rival fashion week organizers to two companies both using the name “Supreme.” Here’s a look at some of the year’s most cut-throat legal battles and a few throwbacks to those of years gone by …
1. The Behind-the-Scenes Battle for the “New York Fashion Week” Name. While New York-based brands were busy sending their Spring/Summer 2019 collections down the runway this September, there was something else underway behind the scenes: a fight over the rights in New York Fashion Week name. The Council of Fashion Designers of America (“CFDA”), a New York-based trade organization for American designers and WME-IMG, the media giant and long-time producer of New York Fashion Week, have been embroiled in a battle for the name of the bi-annual fashion event that they have pioneered for years. Since its founding in 1962, the CFDA has organized semi-annual Fashion Week events, while WME-IMG has been – for over a decade – responsible for the official fashion week venues.
2. The Battle for the Gucci Group: "One of the Most Bitter Fights in Corporate History". In the late 1990’s a fight for ownership of Gucci – then still a family-owned business – pitted two of France’s richest men, François Pinault and Bernard Arnault, and their rival conglomerates, Kering (then called PPR) and LVMH, against one another in what would swiftly become known as “the bloodiest fight in fashion.”
3. Almost 10 Years Later, Gucci and Guess Make Peace in Global Legal War. After warring in courts across the globe for nearly a decade, Gucci and Guess reached an agreement this year “which will result in the conclusion of all pending intellectual property litigations and trademark office matters worldwide.” The settlement comes almost ten years after Gucci accused the comparatively lower-end brand of perpetrating a “massive trademark infringement scheme,” initially filing suit against Guess in 2009 in federal court in New York.
4. The $1 Billion-Plus Battle Over Bratz: Bribery, Monopoly-Building and Barbie. Bratz dolls first hit shelves across the U.S. in 2001, and within 5 years, MGA had sold a whopping 125 million products.The Bratz dolls were coming for Barbie’s crown, and that was the “one thing [that Mattel] could not afford.” So, Mattel filed suit claiming that the in-demand and diverse Bratz dolls – unlike the traditional white-washed pinup-girl-inspired Barbie – were running afoul of its intellectual property rights.
5. The Battle for the World's Most Famous Fragrance: Chanel No. 5. The most momentous legal scuffle that Chanel has faced – to date – took place almost a century ago, and it involved the house’s famed founder Ms. Chanel, herself,and her rights in the Chanel No. 5 fragrance. “Feeling she had been cheated, [Coco] Chanel filed lawsuit after lawsuit, trying to get more control and more of the profits. By 1928 … the Wertheimers had a lawyer on their staff who dealt solely with [Ms.] Chanel.”
6. An Inside Job: The Counterfeit Bust that Put Hermès' Own Employees Under the Microscope. In the summer of 2011, while Hermès was working to carefully balance its own supply against the intense yearning for its bags among well to-do consumers across the globe and trying to keep takeover bids by aggressive fashion conglomerates at bay, more than a dozen people – including some of its own employees – labored diligently to build and maintain a small-but-mighty counterfeiting ring. In clandestine workshops, they were producing bags that to maybe even some of the more discerning Hermès fans looked – and felt – real.
7. Pricey Beauty Products, Organized Crime & a Global Legal Battle: The $220 Million-Plus Manuka Honey Industry. Thanks to celebrityshout-outs (such as those from Manuka Doctor ambassador Kourtney Kardashian) and endorsements from health care professionals, Manuka honey has gone from being a local, albeit pricey, staple to a $200 million-plus industry and the center of a war between New Zealanders and Australians.
8. How A Quiet Trademark Scheme & Epidemic-Level Counterfeiting Led to a Global Fight for Supreme. As it turns out, an unaffiliated company called IBF has, since its incorporation in late 2015, been quickly and quietly amassing rights in the Supreme name and logo in many countries where James Jebbia’s Supreme had not previously sought trademark rights. Now, IBF has rights in 54 countries and is set to have more stores than the real Supreme and beat it to China.