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The Glaring Irony of Gucci’s Trademark Accusations Against Forever 21 (Update)

This article has been updated.

Blue-red-blue stripes on the (contentious) Gucci Resort 2018 runway; Image: Pietro D'Aprano/Getty Images

Blue-red-blue stripes on the (contentious) Gucci Resort 2018 runway; Image: Pietro D’Aprano/Getty Images

Since Gucci’s Resort 2018 presentation in May, the Italian fashion house has been accused of (illegally) copying other designers’ work on not one, not two, but three separate occasions. Meanwhile, fast-fashion chain Forever 21 is known for regularly ripping off — or taking “inspiration” from — designer clothing. It’s part of the brand’s DNA.

Amusingly, the two knockers-off are now locked in a legal battle over how far designers can go in ripping off other designers’ work. Since December 2016, Gucci has sent Forever 21 multiple cease-and-desist letters insisting that the chain stop selling clothing and accessories that feature blue-red-blue or green-red-green stripes. The offending Forever 21 pieces include a blue-red-blue striped choker, three bomber jackets with striped trim and a sweater with striped elbows and trim. Gucci argues that the stripes on these items are “confusingly similar” to its signature stripes.

One of the Forever 21 clothing items in question; Image: Case Document

One of the Forever 21 clothing items in question; Image: Case Document

Forever 21 thinks it’s being unfairly singled out. In March, the retailer’s senior corporate counsel denied Gucci’s infringement claims, arguing that stripes — and red, green and blue stripes in particular — are “among the most favorite, popular and widely used colors and design features on clothing.”

Although Gucci does hold trademarks for its highly recognizable stripe trios, on Monday, Forever 21 filed a legal complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California’s Western Division arguing that Gucci should not be allowed to claim ownership of multicolored stripes.

An actual Gucci bomber jacket; Image: Net-a-Porter

An actual Gucci bomber jacket; Image: Net-a-Porter

“Forever 21 is not infringing any Gucci trademark,” reads the complaint. “Gucci’s trademark registrations relevant to this dispute should be canceled. Gucci’s pending applications should not proceed to registration. This matter is ripe for a declaratory judgment.”

In an exclusive statement to Fashionista, Gucci clapped back. “Forever 21’s reputation for being accused of profiting from the trademarks and copyrights of others, including Gucci, is well established. Now, in an effort to distract from its own blatant infringements, Forever 21 is attempting to attack some of Gucci’s more famous and iconic trademarks. This will not deter Gucci from pursuing its own claims against Forever 21 as part of its ongoing commitment to the vigorous protection of its valuable intellectual property rights and distinctive brand identity.”

It’s hard to choose a side. True, Forever 21 has been accused of copyright infringement on countless occasions. Companies including Diane Von Furstenberg, Anna Sui and Anthropologie have sued the brand. That said, Gucci is throwing stones from behind glass walls. If reports are true, indie artists Stuart Smythe and Milan Chagoury are about to hit the Italian label with a similar intellectual property theft suit. Furthermore, Gucci does seem to cherry-pick its battles. Case in point: when Alessandro Michele discovered that New York artist Trevor Andrew was making and selling fake Gucci products under the alias “GucciGhost,” he did not sue. Instead, a capsule collection was born.

August 9, 2017 (Update)

The Italian fashion house is not backing down. On Tuesday morning, the brand filed two counterclaims within the U.S. District Court, Central District of California, against Forever 21. The first is for willful trademark infringement, trademark dilution and unfair competition; the second calls for a dismissal of Forever 21’s earlier claim that, in the world of fashion design, stripes are essentially public domain. Read Gucci’s official statement below.

“Gucci has today taken steps to finally put an end to U.S. mass retailer Forever 21’s blatant exploitation of Gucci’s famous and iconic blue-red-blue and green-red-green stripe webbing trademarks. In two filings today in the United States District Court, Central District of California, Gucci has asked the Court to dismiss the spurious claims that Forever 21 lodged on June 26, 2017, and has brought counterclaims against Forever 21 for willful trademark infringement, trademark dilution and unfair competition.

Gucci’s renowned blue-red-blue and green-red-green stripe webbing trademarks have been iconic codes of the House of Gucci for more than fifty years, following their introduction in 1951 and 1963 respectively, with the first U.S. trademark registration of the webbing dating back to 1979.

Despite Forever 21’s attempt to use its lawsuit to intimidate Gucci into ceasing its trademark enforcement efforts, Gucci is as committed as ever to protecting its long established intellectual property rights, which are at the heart of the brand’s identity, and to ending once and for all Forever 21’s reprehensible exploitation of its distinctive trademarks and those of other brands who have suffered the same type of piracy.

Gucci considers the defense and enforcement of its celebrated trademarks of paramount importance in protecting its customers from those who wish to knowingly profit from deception and confusion.”