Normally when mid-level clothing retailers get sued for trademark infringement, the papers get served from high-end fashion houses. But last week, J.Crew got slammed with a lawsuit by none other than Tony Duquette Inc., a high-end home design, furniture and jewelry firm. The suit claims J.Crew’s leopard-print cardigan “infringed its trademarks and constituted unfair competition.”
If you’re not familiar with Duquette’s work, there are some great examples of it here. As a designer, Duquette’s philosophy was that more is more, and his grandiose rooms and houses are stuffed to the brim with luxury. And when you think about it, is there any print that expresses that lifestyle (the one where people ring a bell and ask the help for “More luxury, please”) better than leopard? The answer is no.
So when J.Crew started selling something called the “Duquette Leopard Print Sweater,” Duquette’s people were understandably upset, and claimed that J.Crew not only stole the man’s name, but also his signature. Per WWD:
In the Fifties, Duquette began creating and using leopard print designs for fabric, wallpaper, carpet, clothing and furniture. As a result, the print became a “signature theme” of his designs and “still remains such a defining and recurring element” in his history, according to the court papers submitted by TDI.
The only leopard-print sweater that we could find on J.Crew’s website is called the “Wild spots cardigan.” Maybe its name was changed to stave off some of the ill will the lawsuit has drummed up, or maybe it’s a different product altogether. The tricky thing about this lawsuit is that leopard print is one of those things that’s so ubiquitous, like pants or satchels, that it makes it difficult to say, in a definite way, that they actually stole it. It sounds to us more like they were making an homage to Duquette than trying to make money on his name, but we’ll have to see what the judge and jury say when this case gets to court.