THE FASHION LAW EXCLUSIVE – Florence-based footwear brand Aquazzura is on a bit of a litigation spree. After filing suit against Ivanka Trump and Marc Fisher earlier this week, the fashion industry favorite has filed suit against Steve Madden for copying a number of its most popular footwear designs. According to Aquazzura’s complaint, which was filed on Thursday in the Southern District of New York, a federal court in Manhattan, notorious copycat Steve Madden has replicated at least four of its best-selling styles and is “intentionally targeting and seeking to sell the Infringing Shoes to Plaintiff’s customers and potential customers who are familiar with the well-known trade dress of Plaintiff’s Aquazzura Shoes.”
According to Aquazzura’s complaint, Steve Madden has demonstrated a pattern of copying its footwear since 2014, and this time around, Madden has allegedly recreated its “well-known and popular” Wild Thing, Christy, and Sexy Thing styles, copying “nearly every detail of Plaintiff’s well-known shoes … even offering its infringing shoes in nearly identical color palettes.” This should come as little surprise, as Madden has been the target of an array of suits – such those filed by Alexander McQueen, Stella McCartney, and Balenciaga in recent years – for its line-for-line copies. Per Aquazzura, “Defendant’s predatory business model depends on copying these and other popular Aquazzura designs, which are virtually identical but of lower quality than Aquazzura’s luxury products.”
While the two brands’ shoes are sold at distinctly different price points, Aquazzura’s for $600+ and Madden’s for around $100, Aquazzura claims that it has been harmed and continues to be harmed by Madden’s blatant copies. It asserts in the complaint:
Defendant’s flagrant copying of multiple of Plaintiff’s well-known designs is likely to cause consumers to falsely believe that Defendant’s products come from or otherwise are associated with Plaintiff and to harm Plaintiff and the substantial goodwill it has developed in its proprietary designs and trade dress. Such consumer confusion and harm to Plaintiff will continue as long as Defendant persists in using infringing trade dress for its own goods. Moreover, upon information and belief, Defendant has engaged in said conduct in a bad faith attempt to improperly siphon away Plaintiff’s customers and potential customers.
Moreover, Aquazzura alleges: “Defendant’s infringing products are available through these same channels of trade, including department stores, shoe boutiques, department store websites, and e-commerce sites. Defendant’s Steve Madden boutique is located merely one mile from Plaintiff’s Aquazzura boutique in Manhattan.”
So what rights does Aquazzura have? Well, it has a design patent for its Christy design, which should make that an easy win (even though, based on previous lawsuit initiated against Madden, the case at hand will almost certainly settle). As for the other styles, “due to Aquazzura’s commercial success, unsolicited publicity about the company and its sought-after designs, and resulting widespread consumer recognition of its distinctive designs, Plaintiff has common law trade dress rights in the configuration of the Aquazzura Shoes.”
(Note: trade dress is a form of trademark protection that extends to the overall commercial image of a product that indicates or identifies the source of the product and distinguishes it from those of others. It may include the design or shape/configuration of a product.)
In addition to a jury trial, Aquazzura is asking the court to grant it both preliminary and permanent injunctive relief (which would be crucial, as either Madden or its stockists are currently selling the infringing styles) and an array of damages, including those that Aquazzura “has sustained or will sustain by reason of Defendant’s acts of trade dress infringement and unfair competition” and “all gains, profits, property and advantages derived by Defendant from Defendant’s unlawful conduct and that such profits.” As previously indicated, the suit will likely settle out of court, making this the last time we hear about it.
Madden, himself, is notoriously unfazed by such lawsuits. Speaking about the lawsuit that Balenciaga filed against his company in 2009 after Steve Madden reproduced the Lego shoe from Balenciaga’s Fall 2007 collection, Madden said: “It was silly. They did a multicolored shoe and we did it. It was stupid.” And of the Alexander McQueen bootie the company copied and was sued over that same year: “I’m sure they were alike. Yeah, of course they were. We see millions of shoes. We are influenced by everything that goes on.”
As indicated by the copies that have followed (which have allowed him to build a $2 billion annual business) Madden has been undeterred by such suits. Speaking of them to the New York Times in 2013, Madden said: “I am not embarrassed by [the lawsuits] whatsoever. I mean, George Harrison was sued for ‘My Sweet Lord,’ right? And John Lennon was sued over ‘Come Together.’”
The case is AQUAZZURA ITALIA SRL v. STEVE MADDEN LIMITED, 1:16-CV-04905.