Aimé Leon Dore – a moniker that mixes l’amour (the French word for love), Theodore (founder Teddy Santis’s first name), and Leon (his father’s first name) – might not be the most obvious brand name to hijack but that has not stopped others from trying it given ALD’s skyrocketing popularity. That is what the burgeoning New York-based brand claims in the infringement lawsuit it filed in a federal court in Brooklyn, New York on Thursday, accusing German company TASTR. and its CEO Jan Armbruster of running afoul of the law by creating a knockoff company called “Le Garcon Doré.”
As it turns out, the similarity between the two companies and their offerings is “not coincidental.” According to Aimé Leon Dore (“ALD”)’s complaint, on “several” occasions between “late 2018 and the middle of 2019,” Armbruster contacted representatives for ALD to “inquire about buying ALD’s products to sell in its stores to customers in Germany,” telling ALD that “he and TASTR are big fans of ALD and noted in writing that ALD would be a ‘perfect fit’ for its concept.”
ALD – which was founded in March 2014, and has swiftly racked up coveted stockists, a notable collection of celebrity fans (everyone from Kevin Durant to former One Direction members), “a cult following around the world,” as Vogue put it last year, and collaborations that have linked it with the likes of Puma, New Balance, and Porsche – says that it “declined the offer several times” on the basis that “TASTR [did not] fit into [its] distribution strategy at the time.”
That was not the last of the parties dealings, though. Fast forward a few months to early December 2019, and ALD claims that it got word that “TASTR [had] created a clothing brand under the name ‘Le Garcon Doré’ and released its first collection of apparel that looks strikingly similar – if not nearly identical – to ALD’s apparel.” At the heart of the collection: garments, such as “a black crewneck sweatshirt, with a small white logo that read LE GARCON DORÉ,” with the name stylized in the same way as ALD’s trademark-protected name.
In addition to sharing images of the new collection on Instagram beginning in December 2019, ALD claims that TASTR, presumably under the direction of Armbruster, launched a fully fleshed-out brand concept and internationally-reaching e-commerce website, with a “look and feel [that] is also very similar to ALD.” Beyond that, though, ALD asserts that TASTR has allegedly gone further to bolster the similarity between the two brands by “posting images [to its Instagram account], which [are] made to imitate the look and feel of ALD’s social profile and overall brand aesthetic.”
In short, ALD claims that “when Mr. Armbuster was unable [obtain authorization] to sell ALD [products] in his store(s), Le Garcon Doré was born.” By launching a collection with “an extraordinary resemblance to ALD” and with a similarly stylized name and look-alike, feel-alike aesthetic, ALD claims that the defendants are actively attempting “to capitalize on ALD’s reputation … as one of the premier luxury ‘streetwear’ brands” and its “goodwill,” which it has “built up over time and through the expansive use of resources to build brand awareness.”
The purpose of such “bad faith” efforts on the part of TASTR and Armbuster? To “mislead consumers into thinking the [two] brands are related” when they are not, and thus, bank on that potential connection to sell stuff. And that is precisely what has happened, ALD claims. With such similarities in mind, ALD asserts in the coming months, it would be swamped with messages, largely on Instagram, with consumers “sharing the Le Garcon Dore Instagram page and expressing confusion as to whether or not the brands were affiliated.”
Faced with such mounting consumer confusion, ALD claims that its counsel contacted reps for TASTR, requesting that the company “change the Le Garcon Dore name and logo to comply with [U.S. federal trademark statute] the Lanham Act and European Union trademark law” in light of ALD’s trademark registrations with both the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and with the European Union Intellectual Property Office, only to be told by TASTR’s counsel that “they would not change their name.”
With the foregoing in mind, ALD – whose offerings have been described as “a softer, less status-driven kind of streetwear, [that are] arguably a lot more timeless than the trendy stuff that seems made for the secondhand market” – filed suit, setting forth claims of trademark infringement and federal false designation of origin and unfair competition against TASTR and Armbuster, and seeking preliminary and permanent injunctive relief, a powerful remedy that, if granted, would serve to bar the defendants from continuing to engage in such allegedly infringing behavior (i.e., using the Le Garcon Doré name). The brand is also seeking monetary damages.
UPDATED (Jan. 11, 2021): After TASTR failed to respond to the complaint or otherwise participate in the litigation, the court granted a default judgment to ALD.
The case is Aime Leon Dore, Inc. v. TASTR. GmbH, et al., 1:20-cv-00934 (EDNY).