A copyright case over allegedly infringing non-fungible tokens (“NFTs”) listed on an online marketplace in China has resulted in what is being characterized as a “first-of-its-kind judgment.” Filing suit against Bigverse, plaintiff Shenzhen QiCeDieChu Culture Creativity Co Ltd. (“QiCeDieChu”) asserts that it is the copyright holder of a series of illustrated works by Chinese artist Ma Qianli, including one of a cartoon tiger receiving a vaccine, which was tied to an NFT and offered up on Bigverse’s NFTCNplatform without its authorization. As the operator of the marketplace site, Bigverse is contributorily liable for failing to adequately police the platform for infringements, QiCeDieChu argued.

Specifically, QiCeDieChu argued in its complaint that Hangzho-headquartered Bigverse has an obligation to review the NFTs that are minted and then offered up on its NFTCN platform – in connection with which it collects a portion of the sale – to ensure that the digital tokens are not tied to works that infringe the rights of others. Unsurprisingly, Bigverse argued in response to QiCeDieChu’s suit that it should be shielded from infringement liability, as it is merely a middleman and not the creator or the seller of the NFTs on its platform, which are created – and uploaded – by users.  

Following a hearing in April, the Hangzhou Internet Court sided with QiCeDieChu, holding that Bigverse does, in fact, have a duty to detect and prevent infringement before NFTs are actually listed on its platform, in addition to having an obligation to respond to infringement notices about infringing NFTs after the fact. By failing to fulfill that duty, which is critical when it comes to NFTs because of the generally irreversible nature of the transactions and the ability of “flaws in the copyright ownership of the underlying work of an NFT” to impact the “entire NFT transaction chain,” Bigverse infringed QiCeDieChu’s “right to disseminate works through information networks.”

As such, the court ordered that one-year-old Bigverse – which raised RMB 10 million ($1.6 million) in a Series A round in March – remove the infringing NFTs and pay RMB 4,000 ($589) in damages to QiCeDieChu. Additionally, the court also states that Bigverse should maintain a vetting system to verify that NFTs that users are looking to list on the NFTCN platform do not infringe the rights of others, as well as a takedown system to address infringing NFTs that have been listed.

The court noted that while NFTs cannot be destroyed, they can be sent to an “eater address” (or burn address) and thus, removed from circulation, which it asserted is a sufficient way to deal with infringing NFTs.  

Reflecting on the “landmark” case, DLA Piper’s Horace Lam states that it is the first time that a Chinese court has specifically spoken to the legal nature of NFTs and the obligations of an NFT platform. Specifically, Lam notes that the court characterized NFTs as “digital commodities,” and emphasized that the sale of an NFT does not equate to a transfer or license of the intellectual property of the underlying artwork, unless the terms of the sale provide otherwise. (The court also noted a party that mints an NFT should have rights in the underlying artwork, as distinct from merely having a copy of the underlying work.)

A key takeaway, according to Lam, is the court’s determination that the sale of an NFT that makes unauthorized use of another’s copyright-protected work “does not infringe upon the copyright owner’s ‘right of distribution’ in the underlying work, which is limited by the first-sale doctrine. Instead, it infringes the copyright holder’s “right of communication by information networks,” which he says is “a highly controversial issue in relation to copyright infringement of an NFT.” 

Given that the Hangzhou Internet Court is only a district-level court, Lam asserts that it is “unclear whether its ruling will be widely followed or is likely to be challenged in subsequent cases by other courts in China,” but says that the outcome is “meaningful,” nonetheless, in the light of the fact that formal NFT laws or regulations have not been enacted in China (yet). As such, he encourages players in the NFT space in China to “carefully consider the implications of the ruling.” 

In much the same way as NFTs have boomed in popularity in other countries across the globe, there has been significant interest in – and demand – for NFTs in China. The potential drawback, however, comes in the form of an inability to resell such digital tokens amid an enduring crackdown on cryptocurrency trading and mining by the Chinese government. 

MIT Technology Review reported last month that three national financial industry associations in China released a joint statement centering on NFTs. The three associations, “which collectively cover almost all Chinese banks, brokerages, and fintech companies,” according to MIT Tech Review’s Zeyi Yang, asserted that to “prevent financial risks,” they are asking their members “not to offer centralized trading platforms for NFTs, to refrain from investing directly or indirectly in NFTs, and to forbid using cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin or Ethereum in buying or selling them, among other measures.” 

“The initiative is designed to make it harder to trade NFTs and impossible to speculate in them,” Yang states. “Ultimately, the shifting political atmosphere around NFTs may help test whether they hold any intrinsic value.” 

Nike and RTFKT, the digital fashion/footwear brand it acquired last year, are making headlines with their first joint endeavor into the metaverse. In a widely-covered drop on April 23, the two companies revealed that each of the MNLTH NFT cubes that RTFKT released in February contain a pair of virtual sneakers that mirror the silhouette Nike’s Dunks but can be customized via RTFKT-created skins. In addition to setting the stage for more offerings from the Swoosh and RTFKT, including physical offerings, the drop of the virtual sneakers – which have been coined CryptoKicks – is significant as the name appears to be a nod to some of the technology at the heart of the patent that Nike received back in December 2019 for a “system and method for providing cryptographically secured digital assets,” including the “breeding” of digital sneakers. 

Nike’s “Cryptokicks” is one of the most widely-covered patents when it comes to the metaverse (and virtual fashion/footwear, more specifically), but it is certainly not the only innovation aimed at the virtual world, as leading tech players are developing new hardware and software to cater to consumers’ budding interest in the metaverse, i.e., the combination of aspects of social media, gaming, augmented and virtual reality, and the web that form “an immersive digital world.” 

Noting an uptick on interest in metaverse patents as companies that are developing the building blocks for the virtual world look to protect their innovations, ArentFox Schiff’s Michael Fainberg and Mohammad Zaryab state that among metaverse-specific technologies that they are seeing companies amass patents are “systems for optimizing shared views of virtual objects to multiple wearers of VR headsets; algorithms for generating and moving virtual shapes and scenes in a VR environment based on hand gestures, head motion, or line of sight of the user; systems for generating haptic feedback corresponding to users’ interaction with virtual objects in a virtual environment; and methods for generating 3D avatars of the users, which emulate users’ appearance and behavior,” among others. 

Pursuing patent protection in connection with the virtual world is not without challenges. Just as with physical world-centric inventions, in order to be eligible for patent protection in the U.S. (with regard to the metaverse or virtual world), an invention must new, useful process, and fall within the one of the four statutory categories (machine, manufacture or composition of matter) – or amount to a new and useful improvement on such an invention. While patent protection (i.e., the process of drafting, filing, and working with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”)) “for hardware technologies for the metaverse tends to be quite straightforward – and there are many existing patents for virtual reality and augmented reality headsets,” Mathys & Squire’s Dani Kramer asserts that obtaining software patents for metaverse technologies is “likely to be comparatively more difficult from a subject matter point of view.”  

Fainberg and Zaryab echo this, asserting that patent prosecution is challenging in connection with metaverse tech in large part “due to the strict subject matter eligibility requirements applied to software inventions under 35 U.S.C. 101 in view of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Alice Corp v. CLS Bank,” which asks – in part – whether a patent application contains claims that are directed to an abstract idea. (This subject matter hurdle was demonstrated in Sandbox Software, LLC v. 18Birdies, LLC back in June 2019 when a Delaware federal court determined that one of metaverse platform Sandbox’s inventions was ineligible for patent protection because it was directed to the abstract idea of playing a multiplayer game and keeping track of its progress, and thus, did not amount to patentable subject matter.)

Software in this realm can also be thorny from novelty/non-obviousness point of view. One of the larger considerations in evaluating a metaverse innovation for novelty/non-obviousness is determining whether the process within the metaverse environment is similar to the same process outside the metaverse environment,” according to DLA Piper’s Joseph Wolfe. “If, for example, the only difference between the proposed invention and the prior art is that the proposed invention is confined to the metaverse environment, it may be difficult for applicants to clear the prior art [with the USPTO].” This is why applicants should “identify that step in the process that is unique to execution in the metaverse environment,” he asserts. 

Looking beyond utility-focused patents, companies are also expected to try to utilize design patent protection for any “new, original and ornamental designs” that they are using in the metaverse. “A virtual business may have – as a primary core asset – a virtual product design, aspects of which that may need protection as trade dress under trademark law – or through a design patent,” Holland & Knight’s Thomas Brooke stated in a recent note

Design patent protection for metaverse-focused ornamental design is certainly possible. As the USPTO states in its Manual of Patent Examining Procedure, “Computer-generated icons, such as full screen displays and individual icons, are 2-dimensional images [that] alone are surface ornamentation,” and that comply with the “article of manufacture” requirement of 35 U.S.C. 171

Protection will, of course, depends on how such designs are claimed. As of now, for instance. “a design patent for, say, a purse, would not cover a purse shown in the metaverse,” Suffolk University Law School professor Sarah Burstein tells TFL. It would be possible, she says, to patent the design of a purse for use in the metaverse “if you put a dotted line around an image of the purse and call it a ‘display screen portion with user interface,’ (e.g., the icons in Apple v. Samsung).” Burstein notes that the USPTO “seems to want to go further, to be able to issue patents for VR/AR/projected purses.” (In a December 2020 request for comments about the article of manufacture requirement of 35 U.S.C. 171, the USPTO suggested that designs for “projections, holograms, and virtual and augmented reality” are protectable.) 

Ultimately, increasing attempts by brands to engage with the consumers in the metaverse by way of games and specific metaverse platforms are “sure to present applicants and practitioners with its own unique set of challenges for obtaining patent protection,” Wolfe states. The potential good news for filing parties, per Wolfe is that “broadly speaking,” many of the same principles or best practices for patenting things like “blockchain innovations and artificial intelligence innovations can be applied to metaverse innovations to help applications successfully navigate through the patent office.” 

A European Union regulator is looking to crackdown on anti-competition within the fashion industry. In a statement on Tuesday, the European Commission announced that it has started “unannounced inspections at the premises of companies active in the fashion industry in several Member States,” and at the same time, “has sent out formal requests for information to several companies active in the fashion sector,” citing concerns that the unidentified fashion industry players may be engaging in anti-competitive behavior in violation of EU law, including by potentially joining together to fix prices, limit production or share markets or customers, instead of engaging in competition. 

“The Commission has concerns that the companies concerned may have violated Article 101 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (‘TFEU‘) and Article 53 of the European Economic Area Agreement, which prohibit cartels and other restrictive business practices,” the European Commission stated, noting that unannounced inspections are “a preliminary investigative step into suspected anticompetitive practices.” The regulator cautions, stating that fact that it is carrying out such inspections and sending out formal requests for information “does not mean that the companies are guilty of anti-competitive behavior, nor does it prejudge the outcome of the investigation itself.” 

The fashion industry-specific action comes as the focus of the Commission for the 27-member bloc appears to primarily lie with big tech. In March, for instance, the Commission revealed that it had initiated a formal antitrust investigation to assess whether an agreement between Google and Meta (formerly Facebook) for online display advertising services breached EU competition rules, namely, Article 101 of the TFEU and/or amounts to the abuse of a dominant position (Article 102 TFEU). Meanwhile, earlier this month, the European Commission informed Apple of its preliminary view that it abused its dominant position in markets for mobile wallets on iOS devices “by limiting access to a standard technology used for contactless payments with mobile devices in stores (‘Near-Field Communication (NFC)’ or ‘tap and go’),” and thereby, restricting competition in the mobile wallets market on iOS.

Not limited entirely to tech, the Commission has pin-pointed at least one fashion-centric entity this year (aside from the unnamed companies involved in the recently-announced probe) in connection with an anti-competition probe, announcing early this year that it had launched a formal antitrust investigation to assess whether Pierre Cardin and its licensee the Ahlers Group may have breached EU competition rules by restricting cross-border and online sales of Pierre Cardin-licensed products, as well as sales of such products to specific customer groups. According to a statement from the Commission in January that “Pierre Cardin and Ahlers may have breached EU competition rules by restricting the ability of Pierre Cardin’s licensees to sell Pierre Cardin-licensed products cross-border, including offline and online, as well as to specific customer groups.” 

The investigation, which is currently underway, is said to focus on whether Pierre Cardin and Ahlers, its largest licensee, “developed a strategy to prevent parallel imports and sales to specific customer groups of Pierre Cardin-branded products by enforcing certain restrictions in the licensing agreements,” per Reuters, as the Commission has reinforced rules against curbs on cross-border and online sales as part of a push to boost e-commerce.

A growing number of M&A deals and investment rounds are bringing together some of the biggest names in the fashion and luxury space. In November, a $1.15 billion deal came to light, bringing together Cartier’s parent company Richemont, Chinese e-commerce titan Alibaba, and fashion retail platform Farfetch. The headline-making transaction followed from reports that a “mega deal” was in the making. In addition to proving noteworthy because it brought together three very big names in the fashion sphere in furtherance of an effort that largely focuses on “providing luxury brands with enhanced access to the China market,” the alliance is striking, as it has given rise to speculation about a potential consolidation, with at least some analysts wondering aloud whether the $1.15 billion tie-up could be “a preamble” a larger M&A effort, namely, Richemont merging Yoox Net-a-Porter with Farfetch or the Swiss conglomerate selling the fashion e-commerce pioneer to Alibaba. 

Around the same time, LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton decided to make good on an acquisition effort of its own, the one it had also been quietly (and then not so quietly) working towards: Tiffany & Co. Just a matter of days before the Farfetch-Alibaba-YNAP deal was confirmed, LVMH and Tiffany revealed that they had managed to put their rival lawsuits to bed and come to agreeable terms under which the famed New York-based jewelry stalwart could be brought under the ownership umbrella of the Paris-based luxury goods titan. In exchange for $15.8 billion, LVMH would acquire all shares in the formerly publicly-traded Tiffany & Co.

Both instances come as consolidation has been top of mind in the luxury space, where the biggest groups, such as Louis Vuitton-owner LVMH and Gucci’s parent company Kering, have amassed sizable rosters of brands over the past several decades by way of various fashion and luxury-centric M&A transactions, thereby, enabling them to benefit from sheer size and scale, while making it more difficult for independently-owned brands to compete. The havoc wreaked on brands’ balance sheets by the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting shift online (and the expenses that come with doing that and doing it well) is expected to accelerate that existing fashion industry M&A activity even further. 

“With the financial difficulties [brought about by COVID] in mind, many players, and in particular the smallest, will become more-affordable M&A targets,” according to Isabelle Chaboud, an Associate Professor in the Finance, Accounting and Law Department of Grenoble Ecole de Management. “The most financially solid players – such as LVMH, Kering or Chanel – will no doubt have the option of buying out competitors, subcontractors and even suppliers.”

A Timeline of Transactions

With the foregoing in mind, here is a running timeline of the most recent fashion and luxury-focused M&A and investments dating back to LVMH’s headline-making deal with Tiffany & Co. … 

May 17, 2022 – B2B Fashion Supply Chain Marketplace Fashinza Raises $100M

Fashinza has raised $100 million in a Series B round that co-led by Prosus Ventures and Westbridge with participation from Accel, and Elevation, among others, valuing the B2B fashion marketplace at $300 billion valuation. The Delhi, India-based company describes itself as the “fastest apparel manufacturing platform” that “solves apparel/fashion supply chain challenges by connecting fashion brands to experienced manufacturers.”

The round brings Fashinza’s total funds raised to $135 million, which CEO Pawan Gupta says the company will use to “refine the company’s supply chain technology and expand into new markets, including raw materials procurement.”

May 4, 2022 – Kering Invests in Alternative Leather Startup VitroLabs

Gucci-owner Kering is one of the investors in a $46 million Series A round raised by VitroLabs, along with actor Leonardo DiCaprio, agriculture-focused VC Agronomics, Bestseller’s Invest FWD innovation arm, Khosla Ventures, New Agrarian, and Regeneration VC, among others. California-based VitroLabs, which makes cellular-cultivated leather that “replicates the structure of animal hides,” will use the funding to scale-up its operations and expects to start pilot manufacturing this spring.

“At Kering, a chapter/pillar of our sustainability roadmap is dedicated to sustainable innovation and actively looking for alternative materials that can reduce our environmental impact over the long term is part of the solutions we have been exploring for years. We believe that innovation is key to addressing the sustainability challenges that the luxury industry is facing, which is why we are very interested in the potential of biomaterials such as cultivated leather,” Marie-Claire Daveu, Chief Sustainability and Institutional Affairs Officer at Kering, said in connection with the finding announcement.

May 2, 2022 – G-III to Acquire Remaining 81 Percent Stake in Karl Lagerfeld Label

DKNY and Sonia Rykiel-owner G-III Apparel Group will acquire the outstanding 81 percent stake in the late Karl Lagerfeld’s eponymous label for $210 million in cash in a deal that will make it the sole owner of the brand. G-III, which first acquired a 19 percent stake in the brand in 2016 after launching a joint venture in 2015, says that it expects that retail sales for the Karl Lagerfeld label could eventually surpass $2 billion.

Apr. 20, 2022 – Destree Raises Series A from Beyonce, Rihanna, Sequoia Capital China

Destree, the Paris-based fashion brand founded by Géraldine Guyot and Laetitia Lumbroso, announced a Series A round that includes big-name investors, such as venture capital firm Sequoia Capital China, Beyoncé, Rihanna, Reese Witherspoon, Gisele Bündchen, Gabriela Hearst, Carmen Busquets, Jessica Alba, Glossier founder Emily Weiss, and Amy Griffin of G9 Ventures. Financial terms were not disclosed, per WWD, but it is understood Guyot and Lumbroso retain majority control of the business, founded in 2016. WWD reports that the funding will be used to “almost double the size of their small team; open Destree’s first freestanding stores; expand into new or underdeveloped markets like the Middle East, China, Japan and the U.S., and supercharge e-commerce operations and digital-native marketing.”

Apr. 5, 2022 – Farfetch Takes Stake in Neiman Marcus Group

Farfetch announced that it will make “a minority common equity investment of up to $200 million” in Neiman Marcus Group in furtherance of a global strategic partnership.” According to a statement from the two retailers, “The partnership builds on Farfetch’s Luxury New Retail vision and advances Neiman Marcus Groups’ pioneering strategy to revolutionize integrated luxury retail, with an initial focus on re-platforming the Bergdorf Goodman website and mobile application to expand its global capabilities and services.” Neiman Marcus says that it will use the proceeds to “further accelerate growth and innovation through investments in technology and digital capabilities.”

In a note about the deal, Bernstein analyst Luca Solca stated that it provides Farfetch “a strategic opportunity to stand out among service providers and to benefit from the strength of the local US customers,” namely by way of its and its Luxury New Retail and Farfetch Platform Solutions, its suite of commerce solutions and retail technology for luxury brands and retailers.

Mar. 14, 2022 – Kering to Bolster Eyewear Unit with Maui Jim

Kering Eyewear has signed an agreement to acquire Maui Jim, Inc., the French luxury goods conglomerate revealed without disclosing the terms of the deal. On the heels of Kering snapping up Danish eyewear brand LINDBERG in July 2021, the group says that “this second key acquisition is also a major step for Kering Eyewear, which has now become unparalleled in its market segment, further validating the strategy that laid behind its creation by Kering in 2014.” The transaction is subject to the clearance by the relevant competition authorities and is expected to be completed in the second half of 2022.

Jan. 28, 2022 – Farfetch to Acquire Violet Grey

Farfetch will acquire beauty brand Violet Grey for an undisclosed sum, the e-commerce platform announced. In a nod to larger implications of the deal, Violet Grey founder Cassandra Grey will act as chairwoman for the brand, while also becoming Farfetch’s global beauty advisor and the co-founder of NGG Beauty, a division of Farfetch’s New Guards Group, with both entities seemingly ramping up their intentions to launch into the beauty space. The launch of a beauty category on the Farfetch marketplace is scheduled for later in the year.

“Farfetch has a really strong track record for acquiring really special, founder-led brands and celebrating and protecting that kind of brand equity,” Grey said in statement inn connection with the confirmation of the deal.

Jan. 27, 2022 – Kim Kardashian’s SKIMS Raises $240 Million

Kim Kardashian’s shapewear label SKIMS raised $240 million in an unknown-series round that was led by hedge fund Lone Pine Capital and that also included D1 Capital Partners, along with existing investors Thrive Capital, Natalie Massenet’s Imaginary Ventures, and Alliance Consumer Growth. The round doubles the barely three-year-old brand at $3.2 billion, up from $1.6 billion in April 2021. Kardashian and SKIMS CEO Jens Grede will retain a controlling stake in the company after the investment, according to Bloomberg.

Jan. 18, 2022 – LVMH Luxury Ventures Invests in Aimé Leon Dore

LVMH’s Luxury Ventures investment vehicle has taken a minority stake in budding New York-based fashion brand Aimé Leon Dore. While the terms of the investment – which appears as though it might be the latest deal to have been brokered by Alexandre Arnault – have not been disclosed, LVMH typically Luxury Ventures typically targets investments ranging from €2 million to €15 million. In a statement on Tuesday, Aimé Leon Dore founder Teddy Santis stated, “LVMH’s vast network of global leaders across the industry and its rich history in growing exceptional storied brands offers a truly unique partnership opportunity to fuel the next chapter of growth for Aimé Leon Dore.”

Jan. 13, 2022 – LVMH Luxury Ventures Takes a Stake in Heat

Mystery boxes are the latest target of investment for LVMH’s Luxury Ventures, with the French luxury goods conglomerate’s fund among the parties to a $5 million round raised by Heat. OTB Group board member and BVX CEO Stefano Rosso, Singapore-headquartered VC firm Antler, L Catterton partner Michael Mitterlehner, Spotify Director of Global Growth Sven Ahrens, and the Hermès family are some of the other investors in London-based Heat’s seed round, the funds from which will be used to “implement gamification, AI-driven personalization, and interactive drops, all while driving sustainability,” the company revealed.

Nov. 22, 2021 – CVC Capital, HPS Investment Take Stake in Authentic Brands

Private equity firms CVC Capital Partners and HPS Investment Partners have acquired “significant equity stakes” in Authentic Brands Group, putting a a $12.7 billion enterprise value on the company and prompting it to postpone a previously-planned planned initial public offering until at least 2023. In a statement, ABG said that “since its founding in 2010, [it] has experienced significant growth by implementing a proven playbook that connects strong brands with best-in-class licensees and a network of partners to optimize value in the marketplace.” Among the 30 or so brands under its ownership umbrella are Forever 21, Barneys New York, Aeropostale, Brooks Brothers, and Vision Street Wear.

Sept. 23, 2021 – G-III to Acquire Sonia Rykiel

G-III Apparel Group revealed that it has entered into an M&A agreement to purchase Sonia Rykiel, with plans to accelerate the relaunch of the French fashion brand primarily in Europe, for the fall of 2022, with collections across multiple categories. The transaction, which comes less than two years after brothers Eric and Michael Dayan successfully bid to acquire all of the bankrupt brand’s assets via a court-administered process. (Those assets included the brand’s intellectual property rights (namely, its various global trademark registrations, and decades of archives and product prototypes); the commercial leases for its brick-and-mortar outposts in France – from its Saint Germain flagship to a glitzy boutique in Cannes, among others; and its remaining stock of garments and accessories.)

The fashion-centric M&A deal is expected to close by the end of October 2021.

Aug. 24, 2021 – Chanel Takes Majority Stake in Paima

Chanel has taken a majority stake in Italian knitwear company Paima, a move that falls in line with a larger pattern of luxury giants looking gain greater control over their supply chains by bringing key third-party companies under their own roofs. “This decision has been motivated by converging interests,” Chanel asserted in a statement, noting that while Paima, which has been a supplier for the French fashion brand for 25 years, “has seen its development accelerate in recent years, it seemed appropriate to have a solid partner to help it grow [further] and invest.” More than that, Chanel revealed that the investment “provides a more sustainable collaboration framework by continuing an already established relationship.”

Aug. 12, 2021 – Authentic Brands Group Buys Reebok

Adidas is selling its Reebok brand to Authentic Brands Groups for up to 2.1 billion euros ($2.46 billion), with the German sporting wear group looking to “focus on its core brand after the U.S. fitness label failed to live up to expectations,” per Reuters. Authentic Brand, which filed its preliminary IPO documentation in July, has been on a buying streak in the past few years, with the brand developer buying up an array of fashion and apparel companies, ranging from Juicy Couture and Judith Leiber to Jones New York, Volcom, and Aeropostale.

Jul. 28, 2021 – Aeffe Takes Full Control of Moschino 

Italian fashion and luxury goods group Aeffe S.p.A. acquired the remaining 30 percent of Moschino in an M&A deal that will see it pay 66.6 million euros ($78.51 million), and bring its holding of the company to 100 percent and the valuation of the Jeremy Scott-designed brand to $261.7 million. Aeffe also owns Alberta Ferretti, Philosophy by Lorenzo Serafini and Pollini.

In a statement, Aeffe Executive Chairman Massimo Ferretti said, “The operation we have just concluded has long been considered an important step in our medium-long term growth strategy. With the full control over MOSCHINO brand, we are now in the best conditions to manage all activities related to the brand’s value chain, from product to quality and with positive effects on image, distribution and communication.”

Jul. 20, 2021 – LVMH Takes Majority Stake in Off-White

LVMH announced on Tuesday that it is taking a majority stake in Off-White, the upscale fashion/streetwear brand that Virgil Abloh launched in 2013 via a new M&A deal. In a statement, LVMH revealed that in addition to taking a 60 percent stake in Off-White, it has entered into a new “arrangement” with Abloh to “jointly pursue new projects across luxury categories.” 

Jul. 18, 2021 – L Catterton Takes Majority Stake in Etro

Italian fashion brand Etro announced on July 18 that it entered into a binding M&A agreement to partner with L Catterton. Under the terms of the agreement, LVMH-affiliated L Catterton Europe will acquire a majority stake in Etro, while the Etro family will retain a significant minority. Etro Founder Gerolamo Etro will be appointed as Chairman of the company.

Jul. 12, 2021 – LVMH Takes Minority Stake in Phoebe Philo

Phoebe Philo announced that she is launching her own label after spending three and a half years out of the spotlight following her 10-year tenure with Celine, and revealed that LVMH has taken a minority stake in her soon-to-launch label. The size of LVMH’s minority position and the terms of the deal have not been disclosed.

Jul. 11, 2021 – Nordstrom Takes Stake in Four ASOS Brands

Nordstrom announced that it has acquired a minority stake in four apparel brands owned by British fashion group ASOS. Topshop, Topman, Miss Selfridge and the activewear label HIIT, which ASOS acquired from Arcadia Group for £295 million ($407.21 million) in February 2021, will enable the U.S. department store chain to target millennial and Gen-Z consumers. Financial terms of the M&A deal have not been disclosed.

Jul. 8, 2021 – Kering Acquires LINDBERG

Kering is bolstering its eyewear division by way of a deal in which Kering Eyewear will acquire 100 percent of the share capital of LINDBERG. The acquisition is “an important milestone in the successful expansion of Kering Eyewear and perfectly fits with its development strategy,” according to Kering, which launched its eyewear division in 2014, a venture that it says consists of “an innovative business model that has enabled [it] to reach a critical size in the market with close to €600 million wholesale external revenues” as of FY2019.

Jul. 7, 2021 – Glossier Raises $80 Million in Latest Round

Glossier announced that it has raised $80 million in Series E funding. The round, which was led by Lone Pine Capital with participation from existing investors Forerunner Ventures, Index Ventures, IVP, Sequoia Capital, and Thrive Capital, values the millennial-focused beauty company at $1.8 billion.

Jun. 30, 2021 – Richemont Acquires Delvaux

Cartier owner Richemont announced on Wednesday that it has acquired a 100 percent stake in Belgian luxury leather goods brand Delvaux in “a private transaction.” Founded in 1829, Richemont says that Delvaux is the oldest luxury leather goods Maison in the world. The Swiss conglomerate revealed that the transaction has “no material financial impact on [its] consolidated net assets or operating result for the year ending March 31, 2022,” and that Delvaux’s revenues will be reported within its “Other” business area.

The M&A deal appears to be a sign that Richemont is looking to bolster its softer luxury (and maybe even fashion) offerings, having built its name in the hard luxury (i.e., jewelry and watches) segment of the market.

Jun. 24, 2021 – GOAT Nabs $3.7 Billion Valuation with New Round

Online sneaker and apparel marketplace GOAT Group has raised $195 million in a new funding round, which has “more than doubled its valuation to $3.7 billion,” per Reuters. The Los Angeles-based company, which was founded in 2015, boasts some 30 million customers across 170 countries, and “posted gross merchandise value, which represents the total volume of goods sold, of $2 billion over the past year as sales of sneakers and apparel surged.”

The buzzy platform made headlines early this year when it announced that it had welcomed a “strategic investment” from Groupe Artemis – the controlling shareholder of Gucci, Balenciaga, Saint Laurent, and Bottega Veneta’s parent company Kering – as it “continues its expansion in fashion apparel and new categories.” (It also garnered attention in connection with a settlement in the trademark lawsuit filed against it by London-based brand Goat Fashion.)

Jun. 24, 2021 – Kering Takes Stake in Luxury Rental Co. Cocoon

Kering has taken an undisclosed stake in a luxury rental company. In a statement on Thursday, Kering announced that it has invested in Cocoon, a London-based startup that specializes in facilitating rentals for luxury handbags – including offerings from upwards of 30 brands, such as Kering-owned Gucci, Balenciaga, and Bottega Veneta – with the investment coming as part of a larger $3.5 million round that also included participation from resale platform Depop’s founder Simon Beckerman, among others. Kering’s chief client and digital officer Gregory Boutte said the deal is part of a larger strategy by the conglomerate to invest in innovative young companies. 

Jun. 22, 2021 – Prada, Zegna Take Stakes in Cashmere Supplier

Prada has partnered with fellow Italian fashion company Ermenegildo Zegna Group to acquire a controlling stake in Italian cashmere producer Filati Biagioli Modesto in furtherance of a quest to “secure a domestic supply chain and luxury-goods manufacturing expertise.” The two big-name fashion entities will each take a 40 percent stake in the Montale-based supplier, which is known for its Italian cashmere and “noble yarns,” while the Biagioli family will hold on to 15 percent of the company, and newly-appointed CEO Renato Cotto – who recently served as a director at LVMH’s Loro Piana – will assume a 5 percent holding. 

Jun. 18, 2021 – LVMH Takes Full Control of Pucci

LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton acquired the outstanding 33 percent stake in Emilio Pucci just over two decades after it paid an undisclosed sum for a 67 percent ownership stake in the Italian fashion house in 2000. In a statement on Friday, as first reported by WWD, Toni Belloni, LVMH’s group managing director thanked the Pucci family, and in particular, Laudomia Pucci, the daughter of founder Emilio Pucci, who has served as the Deputy Chairman and Image Director of the brand, “for their friendship and collaboration over the years.” In conjunction with the deal, Ms. Pucci will step down from her current role and “dedicate herself to the archives and promoting the heritage of her late father.”

Jun. 10, 2021 – Fosun Fashion Group Nabs Sergio Rossi in M&A Deal

In a statement on June 10, Fosun Fashion Group revealed that it has signed a M&A agreement to acquire 100 percent of Sergio Rossi S.p.A from from Absolute Luxury Holding S.r.l., an independently-managed investment subsidiary of Investindustrial V L.P., for an undisclosed sum. The Shanghai-headquartered group stated that the acquisition will “further enrich FFG’s luxury brand portfolio, which currently includes Lanvin, Wolford, Caruso and St. John Knits, complementing the group’s core competency through luxury accessories.”

Jun. 8, 2021 – Sequoia Takes Stake in SSENSE

SSENSE announced that it has sold an undisclosed stake in the company to California-based venture capital firm Sequoia Capital in a M&A deal that values the fashion e-commerce retailer at 5 billion CAD ($4.13 billion). As for what the investment might entail, it appears that the high fashion-focused retailer has set its sights on expansion in China, as Angelica Cheung, the former editor-in-chief of Vogue China, who joined Sequoia Capital China as a venture partner in February, will join the SSENSE’s board in connection with the deal.

Apr. 22, 2021 – LVMH Boosts Stake in Tod’s

Tod’s revealed that LVMH will boost its exist stake in Tod’s to 10 percent by way of a new 6.8 percent increase. “A source close to the matter said the French giant does not expect to raise its stake further for now,” Reuters reported, noting that Tod’s founder and chairman Diego Della Valle has been a member of LVMH’s board of directors since 2002. While Della Valle has repeatedly denied longstanding chatter about a takeover, he stated on Thursday that “this may represent an excellent reason to consider further opportunities to be taken in the future ahead,” referring to LVMH’s stake increase.

Mar. 25, 2021 – Made in Italy Fund acquires Dondup

Made in Italy Fund has acquired Milan-based fashion brand Dondup from fellow private equity firm L Catterton for an undisclosed sum. “The fund said it aims at creating a fashion conglomerate with Dondup and other fashion brands it owns – 120%Lino, known for its linen clothes, and jewellery and accessories maker Rosantica – and expanding their foothold in Europe and the United States, Reuters reported. The firm also maintains a majority stake in 6-year old Italian streetwear label GCDS, which it acquired in November 2020.

Mar. 8, 2021 – Ferrari owner Exor takes 24% stake in Louboutin

Exor Group – the $30 billion Netherlands-incorporated investment group run by the Italian Agnelli family and the largest shareholder in Italian automaker Ferrari – announced that it will take a 24 percent stake in the independently-owned Louboutin in exchange for 541 million euros ($640 million), a deal that values the 30-year old Paris-based footwear brand at $2.3 billion euros ($2.73 billion) and sets it up for expansion, particularly in China.

Mar. 5, 2021 – Margiela-owner OTB acquires Jil Sander

Japanese apparel group Onward Holdings announced that it will sell fashion brand Jil Sander to Renzo Rosso’s luxury group, OTB, the parent of Diesel, Maison Margiela, Marni, Amiri, and Viktor & Rolf. The financial figures associated with the M&A deal remain undisclosed.

Mar. 1, 2021 – Kering leads $216 million Vesitaire round

Kering and American investment firm Tiger Global Management are leading a new funding round that sees secondhand marketplace Vestiaire Collective bring in $216 million in new funding, along with existing investors, including its CEO Max Bittner, Vogue’s parent company Condé Nast, and the Eurazeo Group, among others. The deal gives Paris-based Vestiaire “unicorn status” – i.e., puts a $1 billion-plus value on the privately-held company – and “ideally positions it for its next cycle of accelerated growth.” 

Dec. 9, 2020 – Exor Group acquires Shang Xia

Ferrari owner Exor Group announced that it will invest “around €80 million [$96.9 million] in Chinese brand Shang Xia via a reserved capital increase that will result in it becoming the company’s majority shareholder.” Exor noted that Hermès – which “has accompanied Shang Xia successfully throughout the initial phase of its development – will remain as an important shareholder alongside Exor and [founder] Jiang Qiong Er.”

Dec. 7, 2020 – Moncler acquires Stone Island

Moncler announced that it will acquire Italian fashion label Stone Island for $1.4 billion. The Milan-headquartered luxury outerwear company will “purchase 70 percent of Stone Island’s parent company SPW from Chief Executive Officer Carlo Rivetti and other members of his family, [and] then buy the remaining 30 percent from Singapore’s state investor Temasek” in furtherance of a two-step transaction. 

Nov. 9, 2020 – VF Corp. acquires Supreme for $2.1 billion

Three years after Supreme sold off a reported 50 percent stake to private equity giant Carlyle Group, VF Corp revealed that it will pay $2.1 billion to buy popular streetwear brand. The deal – which was formally completed on December 28, 2020 – saw VF Corp. take full ownership of Supreme, with current Supreme investors Carlyle Group and New York-based private equity firm Goode Partners agreeing to sell their stakes in the New York-based brand. 

Nov. 5, 2020 – Alibaba, Richemont invest $1.1 billion in Farfetch

Alibaba Group Holding and Richemont announced that they will invest $1.1 billion in online luxury fashion retailer Farfetch and its new marketplace in China. At the same time, Artemis – an investment vehicle tied to Gucci owner Kering – simultaneously announced that it would increase its stake in Farfetch with a $50 million injection of cash in exchange for Farfetch’s Class A ordinary shares. 

Oct. 29, 2020 – LVMH and Tiffany & Co. agree to $15.8 billion M&A

LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton and Tiffany & Co. managed to salvage their meger deal, with the French luxury goods conglomerate agreeing to pay a few dollars less per share to acquire the New York-based jewelry company. In a statement, the parties confirmed that LVMH will pay $131.5 per Tiffany share, down from the $135/share price tag they initially agreed to in November 2019 before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

*This article was initially published on March 1, 2021, and has been updated accordingly.

Just over a year after the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) announced the launch of a Task Force in order to “proactively identify” environmental, social, and governance (“ESG”) related “misconduct” by publicly-listed companies, investment advisers, funds, and other market participants, the Task Force has initiated its first enforcement action in what could signify impending action for companies across industries. In the complaint that it filed late last month, the SEC alleges that Brazilian mining company Vale S.A. is on the hook for making “false and misleading claims about the safety of its dams” prior to the deadly collapse of its Brumadinho dam in 2019 “caused immeasurable environmental and social harm, and led to a loss of more than $4 billion in Vale’s market capitalization.” 

According to the SEC’s complaint, which was filed with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York on April 28, Vale engaged in securities fraud by “improperly obtaining stability declarations for the dam by knowingly using unreliable laboratory data; concealing material information from its dam safety auditors; disregarding accepted best practices and minimum safety standards; removing auditors and firms who threatened [its] ability to obtain dam stability declarations; and making false and misleading statements to investors.” 

Vale allegedly “knew that the dam did not meet internationally-recognized safety standards,” the SEC asserts, However, its public-facing sustainability reports and other public filings “fraudulently assured investors that the company adhered to the ‘strictest international practices’ in evaluating dam safety and that 100 percent of its dams were certified to be in stable condition.” 

“Rather than confront the high reputational and economic costs arising from the unacceptable safety risks posed by its Brumadinho dam, Vale engaged in a pattern of deceptive acts designed to skirt the applicable regulatory requirements related to dam safety,” the SEC asserts. Specifically, from February 2016 through October 2018, the regulator alleges that Vale “knowingly or recklessly obtained eight fraudulent and deceptive stability declarations in connection with corrupted audits of the Brumadinho dam.” While Vale’s “fraud and deception caused immeasurable human suffering, it also caused significant harm to investors,” the SEC argues, stating that investors relied on Vale’s statements on “several material issues, [namely], the stability of [its] dams; the nature of [its] safety practices in the wake of [a prior] dam disaster; and the actual risk of catastrophic financial consequences should any of its high-risk dams, like the Brumadinho dam, collapse.” 

With the foregoing in mind, the SEC contends that by “knowingly or recklessly engag[ing] in deceptive conduct and making materially false and misleading [ESG] statements to investors,” Vale engaged in violations of Section 10(b) of the Exchange Act, Section 17(a) of the Securities Act, and Section 13(a) of the Exchange Act. As such, the regulator is seeking a permanent injunction to bar Vale – and “all persons in active concert or participation with it” – from violating the federal securities laws alleged in the complaint, and is also seeking monetary penalties, as well as a disgorgement of all “ill-gotten gains” in connection such alleged securities fraud. 

Certainly not a retail industry case, the newly-initiated ESG enforcement action by the SEC is worthy of attention for companies across industries, including fashion/luxury, which has long been plagued by allegations of unreliable reporting and deceptive audits in connection with brands’ globally-stretching supply chains. In addition to the risks that come with brands making sustainability and climate claims that they potentially cannot backup, the SEC’s case “demonstrates that statements made in ESG reports should now be considered ripe for litigation – whether public enforcement actions or private securities litigation – as classic sources of disclosures,” according to Mintz’s Jacob H. Hupart. “Notably, the SEC’s complaint also features allegations concerning corporate governance failures and problems with the auditing process related to the ESG reports and other disclosures,” he states, asserting that “the presence of these allegations may act to reinforce the SEC’s focus on corporate governance and attestation in its proposed mandatory climate disclosures.” 

Jones Day attorneys Marjorie Duffy, Linda Hesse, Henry Klehm III, Samir Kaushik, Sarah Levine, and Joan McKown say that they “expect the SEC to use this approach more regularly in the future,” meaning that companies should consider taking “additional measures to perform an audit of their ESG-related statements and disclosures to ensure the accuracy and verifiability of such statements made in these reports, on their websites, and in connection with their representations regarding products in marketing materials and to regulators.” 

The case is SEC v. Vale S.A., 1:22-cv-02405 (E.D.N.Y.).