Just when we thought the "parody"-type designs in fashion were so last season, London-based juice company, Blend & Press, has revived the trend. According to our friends over at The Coveteur, the juice co. has crafted three limited edition juices just for the London Fashion Week crowd: Aloe Vera Wang, Kale Lagerfeld, and Cacao Chanel. The Coveteur has the juice details, ingredients, etc. covered, but for the legally minded among us, we simply have to ask: Is this legal? To be specific, can Blend & Press slap the names Vera Wang, Lagerfeld and Chanel on juices and sell them while managing to avoid claims of trademark infringement?
A quick (and very simplified) bit about trademark law: A trademark is any word, name, symbol, or design, or combination of these elements, that is used to identify a particular manufacturer or seller's products and distinguish them from the products of another. Assuming a party has rights in a trademark, which Vera Wang, Karl Lagerfeld, and Chanel all do, it can sue subsequent parties for using that trademark without the authorization to do so. This type of lawsuit could be for trademark infringement (if the subsequent party uses your trademark in the same or similar classes of goods, and consumers are likely to be confused as to the source of the goods) or for trademark dilution (in which case the owner of a famous trademark may sue others for using that mark regardless of the type of goods).
With this in mind, it seems that Chanel, if it chose to sue, which it likely will not (more about that in a minute), would have a legitimate case, as the Chanel trademark is one of the most famous trademarks in the world (thereby, qualifying it for a federal trademark dilution action). A quick search of the USPTO website reveals that Chanel has not federally registered its name in classes that include food or drinks. In fact, the closest registration is one in Class 33, which extends to alcoholic beverages. The argument that Chanel has made a name for itself in connection with food and beverages following its Fall/Winter 2014 collection, which was staged at the Chanel Supermarket, is an interesting one that could be made. As for whether consumers would likely be confused about the source of the "Cacao Chanel" juice is the question at the heart of the trademark infringement matter and one that you can debate amongst yourselves.
Regardless of whether Chanel could show a likelihood of confusion, because the Chanel mark is so famous, the Paris-based design house could sue Blend & Press for dilution, arguing that its use of the Chanel trademark diminishes the distinctiveness of the famous mark. Karl Lagerfeld and Vera Wang, which are arguably much less famous marks (thereby, limiting their chances of dilution claims), would have a more difficult time pursuing legal action without showing a likelihood of confusion.
We know all about the goals of trademark law and the need for brands to police their marks in order to prevent this valuable form of intellectual property from becoming generic, and thus, useless in terms of identifying a source of goods or services. Yet, Chanel is unlikely to file suit for a number of reasons, but namely because from the sounds of things, Blend & Press is only selling limited quantities of the juices during London Fashion Week. In practical terms, if Chanel were to pursue legal action, by the time it filed the lawsuit, the Cacao Chanel juice would be off the shelves. Moreover, the house likely would not gain much in damages. But it is worth noting that while Blend & Press is very likely off the hook here, that does not mean that the juices (and the corresponding use of the Chanel, Vera Wang, and Lagerfeld hashtags that are being used to promote the juices) are anything more than trademark dilution.