A fashion designer and two luxury department stores have landed in hot water after selling products reminiscent of “The King of Cool”. While right of publicity cases frequently turn on alleged appropriation of a celebrity’s name or likeness, the case here seeks to extend a celebrity’s personal brand to cover his fashion choices.
Chadwick McQueen, the son of the late Steve McQueen, has filed suit against Tom Ford, Neiman Marcus, and Bergdorf Goodman for trademark infringement, violation of the right of publicity, false endorsement, and unfair competition. Chadwick and City National Bank control his father’s estate, including intellectual property rights. The McQueen Estate filed suit in Los Angeles County California Superior Court.
Tom Ford, Neiman Marcus, and Bergdorf Goodman previously offered a Tom Ford “McQueen Cardigan” and a Tom Ford “Wool McQueen Cardigan” for sale on their websites. In the McQueen Estate’s lawsuit, the plaintiffs allege that the line of sweaters offered by Tom Ford closely resemble those worn and made famous by Steve McQueen. According to the complaint, by offering this line of sweaters, Tom Ford capitalized on McQueen’s popularity as a fashion icon and his well-known image. The plaintiffs argue that the wool cardigan sweater with a distinctive shawl collar is “synonymous with McQueen”. In support of this contention, the complaint cites an article posted on the website “Style Girlfriend,” which describes McQueen’s distinctive taste in sweaters and describes him as “the lord of manly knitwear.”
According to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, the McQueen Estate owns multiple federal trademark registrations for the mark “STEVE MCQUEEN”. According to one registration for the mark (Reg. No. 3948067), “STEVE MCQUEEN” is registered for use with knit shirts, coats, jackets, shirts, sweaters, t-shirts, among other apparel.
The lawsuit alleges Tom Ford’s “McQueen Cardigan” and “Wool McQueen Cardigan” were offered for $2,390. Both sweaters are now unavailable on the Tom Ford official website. However, the “Merino McQueen Cardigan” is currently listed on Tom Ford’s website and priced at $1,690. The complaint further alleges that Bergdorf Goodman sold a “Steven McQueen Cardigan” that was advertised as “pure cashmere cardigan in Steven McQueen style.”
The complaint states that neither Tom Ford nor Neiman Marcus has a license to use the intellectual property owned by the Steve McQueen estate. As a result, the complaint alleges that Tom Ford’s sale of the “Steve McQueen Cardigan” creates a false impression that the McQueen Estate authorized the line of products. Plaintiffs argue that the defendants used Steve McQueen’s name, likeness, and persona to market the “McQueen” sweaters, causing consumer confusion as to the “source, origin, sponsorship, and association” of the product line.
The McQueen Estate is seeking actual damages, lost profits, two million dollars in statutory damages for each registered trademark that it alleges has been infringed, and attorneys’ fees. The estate is also seeking an injunction barring the defendants from using the “STEVE MCQUEEN” trademarks.
The Los Angeles Superior Court will decide.