There’s simply no denying that fashion lives for the drama. Over the years, there have been countless high-profile feuds between designers, editors, models, brands and fashion houses, and almost every single fashion player has come up against legal issues or a public fallout at some point.
Fashion might manicure a veneer of impenetrable glamor, but down in the trenches, chaotic legal tussles and muddy feuds are rife. Since 2011, Julie Zerbo has highlighted the more litigious side of the industry on her site The Fashion Law. It's become a valuable site for documenting everything from fast-fashion retailers copying independent designers to the intricacies of intellectual property rights in Asian countries. TFL also serves as one of the primary sources for this article.
Now, we take you to the front line of some of the fashion’s biggest beefs, to spill the tea on some of the industry’s messiest legal battles and its cattiest brawls. Remember when a certain monolithic streetwear brand took on a fledgling upstart? Or when a seasoned fashion critic found herself banned from fashion week? Or perhaps the unpaid interns who got their own back and won $5.8 million in damages from the fashion industry's biggest publisher? Keep on reading to find out more.
Supreme vs. Married to the Mob
A case of poetic irony at its very finest. Back in 2013, Supreme founder James Jebbia launched a lawsuit against Married To The Mob for $10 million over trademark infringement.
Why? In 2004, Married To The Mob launched (MOB) its 'Supreme Bitch' t-shirt, which featured an appropriation of Supreme's logo to act as a comment on a male-dominated streetwear subculture. Of course, Supreme's very own Futura font box-logo is a direct lift from the work of American conceptual artist Barbara Kruger.
MOB founder Leah McSweeney hit back on her blog when news of the lawsuit broke and wrote: “Supreme Bitch' is one design of many; one slogan of many. And the use of the design has always been to make fun of the misogynistic vibe of Supreme and the boys who wear it.”
It’s also worth noting that when the “Supreme Bitch” T-shirt first dropped, it was stocked in Jebbia’s Union Store in LA, and he waited almost a decade to claim copyright infringement. Clearly, MOB had Supreme's blessing at first, and it was a big deal for Supreme to take legal action in the first place.
The brand has never sued any of its countless counterfeiters, perhaps as part of some kind of ‘honor amongst thieves’ mentality, given that Supreme itself appropriates other brands with abandon.
"[She's] trying to build her whole brand by piggybacking off Supreme," Jebbia said when speaking with NY Mag. "I thought it was just going to be a one-off. Now it's on hats, t-shirts, towels, mugs, mouse pads."
Needless to say, it became a very public feud, and Leah wasn’t shy about airing her opinions. “The fact that Supreme is coming after MOB and me personally is just another example of the hostility that MOB — the first women's streetwear brand — has faced from day one," Leah wrote on her blog.
Eventually, the lawsuit was settled out of court, despite MOB's counter-suit alleging that the power of unchecked capitalism was used to block free speech. Why? MOB, a scrappy upstart on the streetwear scene simply didn’t have the resources to afford the costs of a lengthy legal defense while also having to sustain its own small business.
Christian Louboutin vs. Yves Saint Laurent
Most people know that one of the defining features of Christian Louboutin's footwear is its red lacquered outsole. So, when Yves Saint Laurent released a collection of monochrome footwear in various colors, including red, Christian Louboutin was having none of it. Louboutin filed a trademark infringement lawsuit against YSL in April 2011, to secure a preliminary injunction to prevent YSL from marketing its own red monochrome shoes or any other shoe incorporating Louboutin’s red sole.
Needless to say, YSL counterclaimed and a long, winding legal battle ensued.
The conclusion? While the courts recognized that Louboutin’s red sole trademark was a distinctive feature, they also ruled that a brand couldn’t have a monopoly over one color in its entirety. If YSL had used Louboutin’s red sole in contrast with another color, then perhaps there would be grounds for infringement.
It’s worth noting that Louboutin had only ever produced four monochrome red shoes in the past, while YSL has produced multiple since the ‘70s.
adidas vs Nike
The sneaker wars are a whole other genre of fashion feuds, and there’s no overlooking the recent arms race between Nike and adidas. For decades, Nike, the $86 billion global sneaker juggernaut, totally dominated the market, but adidas has made a serious play for the crown in recent years.
adidas hasn’t just enticed designers away from Nike, but has even courted superstar endorsements such as Kanye West, who designed the first Yeezy sneaker iteration with Nike, but now produces the infectiously hyped shoes under the adidas stable.
In 2016, Nike finally retaliated and launched a $10 million lawsuit against three of its former shoe designers who jumped ship for adidas, and after a counter-claim, the case was settled out of court.
Back in 2012, Nike won an interim injunction against adidas for patent infringement by adidas’ adizero Primeknit shoe, which it released on the eve of the Olympic games in London. The patent or patents in question protect Nike’s revolutionary Flyknit shoe range, which boast seamlessly knitted uppers produced on Stoll flat knitting machines. It was a real fiasco. In August 2012, the court ruled in Nike's favor, so adidas had to cease production and sales of Primeknit—but the ruling didn't stickn as Nike's patent was later deemed invalid. Nike tried appeal its case, but lost again.
The competition continues today, and most recently, Nike and adidas battled it out to in a race to break the two-hour marathon record with new running shoe designs.
Naomi Campbell vs. The Entire World
Naomi Campbell might be "the reigning supreme" of supermodels everywhere, but her anger management issues are as notorious as her signature runway walk. Back in 2000, Naomi was charged with assaulting her assistant and threatening to push her out of a car.
In 2005, Campbell was back in the dock for slapping her new personal assistant, as you do. A year later, assaulting housekeepers became her sport of choice and she attacked her own maid with a jewel-encrusted cell phone after a pair of jeans went missing. As a result, Naomi was handed the unglamorous task of community service.
However, the Machiavellian supermodel turned it into one of the most audacious stunts of all time by wearing a decadent Dolce & Gabbana dress on her last day of community service. Of course, Steven Klein was on hand to shoot it and it later became an editorial in W Magazine. #GOALS?
Maids aren't the only ones to feel the scorn of Naomi. Tyra Banks has spoken openly about the 15-year long feud between her and Naomi. The two catwalk queens were pitted against each other in the '90s, at a time when there was an unspoken, and totally bigoted, rule that there could only be one black top model. Claims of bullying and model-on-model sabotage were directly addressed when Naomi appeared on Tyra Banks' talk show to mend fences with a healthy dose of tears.
It doesn't stop there. Naomi made headlines for her fiery temper once more in 2011, after being banned from British Airways for going berserk on two police officers on a flight. Iconic.
Cathy Horyn vs. The Entire Fashion Industry
This one never became a legal battle but it’s a glorious example of a fashion feud at its fiercest. Back in 2012, Hedi Slimane, the former creative director at Saint Laurent Paris, very publicly dissed Cathy Horyn in an unhinged (and since deleted) Twitter rant after the celebrated fashion critic gave Slimane’s debut a scathing review. Slimane even went as far to ban Horyn from all Saint Laurent shows.
It was a bold move, considering that Cathy Horyn is one of the industry’s defining voices. She's served as the fashion critic of The New York Times for years and is widely recognized for her intelligent and informed critiques of the industry.
It's an unsaid rule that designers and fashion labels should always handle negative criticism with decorum. However, Cathy's beef with Slimane simmered into something spicier, and Oscar de la Renta became the second brand to go rogue and attack Horyn for her thorny and unfiltered honesty.
The designer brand took out a full-page ad in WWD after New York Fashion Week in September 2013 comparing the New York Times fashion critic to a "stale 3-day old hamburger" in response to her dubbing him the "hot dog" of American fashion in her critique of his Spring/Summer 2013 show.
Indie Designers vs. Zara
Fast fashion retailers have long been guilty of copying runway designs, but Zara attracted even more heat when a handful of independent designers banded together to publicly shame the retailer for its deplorable practices.
It all started after LA-based artist Tuesday Bassen’s claims against the retailer went viral after she took to her Instagram account and called out the Spanish retail titan to expose the use of her copyright-protected work, including an array of original pins that Zara allegedly copied and affixed to a number of garments.
It didn’t take long for a number of other designers and artists to join in on the movement for calling out these multi-national brands for co-opting the work of independent artists without crediting them or paying them a licensing fee.
Designer Adam J. Kurtz – another alleged victim of Zara’s theft – launched a campaign to expose the Spanish fashion chain. Kurtz' website, titled ‘ShopArtTheft’, catalogs all the designs that appear to have been stolen by the brand; with the number of artists backing the claims against Zara, now hitting 42.
The Fashion Law reported that Bassen would be able to fight her case under copyright law, as detailed similarities between her work and the mass production at Zara would fall under copyright law. Though Bassen has voiced plans to copyright all of her designs and press further charges, Zara still has yet to be held accountable for its alleged copyright infringement against artists and independent designers.
The Interns Strike Back
Given that unpaid internships have become a ubiquitous part of industry culture, it’s no surprise that many fashion companies have been hit with a string of lawsuits for alleged abuse and mistreatment of their unpaid interns.
The firms Leeds Brown Law, P.C. and Virginia & Ambinder, LLP, have essentially become the go-to source for scorned interns, having handled cases representing interns against companies like Gucci, Burberry, and Marc Jacobs.
One of the most public instances of interns suing fashion brands was the case against Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, in which the designers behind The Row agreed to pay out $140,000 to a group of 185 interns who claimed they were overworked, according to a filing in Manhattan Supreme Court.
Similarly, Condé Nast has fought and lost litigations. In 2014, the Vogue publisher paid out $5.8 million to former interns over low-pay allegations and quickly reformed its entire internship program in the US.
Karl Lagerfeld vs. Yves Saint Laurent
The Karl v. Yves chapter is almost biblical in the burn book of fashion feuds, given that it technically began all the way back in 1953 when the two designers competed for the very fist International Woolmark Prize as mere teenagers and Yves cinched the win. Over the next five decades, Karl and Yves maintained a fierce professional rivalry.
At first, it looked as though Yves was leading the way with a spotlight-stealing position at Dior, while Lagerfeld seemed a little cast aside at Chloe and Fendi (a position he still holds). However, Karl got his winning moment when he took the helms of Chanel while Yves launched his own label.
Their turbulent history together was even the subject of a book, The Beautiful Fall, which chronicled their lives and loves (they famously competed for the affections of playboy Jacques de Bascher). Rumor has it that Karl even tried to stop the book from being published.
Tom Ford vs. Yves Saint Laurent
Karl isn't the only one to have worked up a fierce rivalry with Yves. After Tom Ford's tenure at YSL, where he served as Creative Director from 1999–2004, the designer-slash-auteur lifted the lid on his own tumultuous relationship with his former boss.
"Pierre [Yves’ partner] and Yves were just evil,” Ford said, claiming that the duo would regularly call the police to shut down his office. “I have letters from Yves Saint Laurent that are so mean you cannot even believe such vitriol is possible. I remember one line was 'in thirteen minutes you've destroyed 40 years of my work.'" Go off Yves.
Coco Chanel vs. Elsa Schiaparelli
Coco Chanel might be remembered as one of the fashion industry's fiercely independent thinkers, having inspired countless biopics, but the legendary late designer was certainly no saint. In fact, she loved a fierce feud and took a special dislike to rival designer Elsa Schiaparelli.
However, the fashion feud became deadly when Coco Chanel once “accidentally” set Schiaparelli on fire by pushing her into a candle arrangement.
It all went down at one of the last great costume balls before the outbreak of World War II. Bettina Ballard (the first French Supermodel and Vogue Cover Girl) recounts the moment in her own book titled In My Fashion. Chanel, costumed as herself, dared Schiaparelli, who had disguised herself as a surrealist tree, to dance with her. 'With purposeful innocence' Chanel steered her dance partner straight into a chandelier ablaze with candles, and Schiaparelli caught fire. 'The fire was put out—and so was Schiaparelli—by delighted guests squirting her with soda water." Utter Savagery.
PETA vs. The Entire Fashion Industry
The formation of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals in 1981 signaled the start of a long, bloody battle with the fashion industry for its complicity in supporting the fur industry, and promoting animal testing and slaughterhouse cruelty, among other horrors.
PETA has since gained a strong celebrity backing, and for a while, the fashion industry was pretty unanimous in heralding fur as murder. Many of fashion’s biggest designers are animal rights advocates, such as Stella McCartney, who is known for her cruelty-free, meat-free fashion.
Since its formation, PETA has done a lot more than protest outside of fashion shows and throw red paint at the white mink coats of haughty editors. The organization has literally started to infiltrate the fashion industry from within.
In 2015, PETA bought one single share of Hermes, which sounds like nothing, but it gave the organization access to the brand’s shareholder meetings where it could voice concerns to decision makers. In 2016, PETA became a Prada shareholder to fight animal cruelty in its boardroom, and earlier this year, bought a stake in LVMH to pressure the conglomerate to stop using crocodile skins.
However, PETA was recently shut out of an LVMH shareholder meeting, and according to The Fashion Law, the organization is exploring legal action against the fashion conglomerate.
Louis Vuitton vs. Supreme
You’re aware of the recent Louis Vuitton x Supreme collaboration, which saw the famed French luxury house unite with the deity of all streetwear brands for its FW17 collection. However, before Louis Vuitton partnered up with Supreme, it had once lawyered up and threatened to sue the brand.
In 2000, Supreme introduced a series of skate decks, beanies, and T-shirts emblazoned with the very recognizable Louis Vuitton monogram print, and just two weeks after the decks were shipped out, the monolithic house hit back with a cease and desist letter.
The French house was reportedly so taken aback by Supreme’s flagrant usage of their monogram print that they demanded that the products be burnt to avoid any further circulation. You can read the true story about the Louis Vuitton vs Supreme case here, and find out why attorney Jeff Gluck doesn’t really think Louis Vuitton actually sued Supreme at all.
PUMA vs. Forever 21
Earlier this year, PUMA a reported a whopping 92% profit increase for the first quarter in 2017, largely due to its enduring relationship with Rihanna and her Fenty x PUMA line, as well as high-profile collaborations with Cara Delivigne and Kylie Jenner.
It makes sense that German sportswear giant wants to protect some of its most lucrative assets, namely the Fenty x PUMA line, from shameless copying by fast fashion titnas. Back in March, PUMA launched a very public lawsuit against Forever 21.
PUMA claims that the fast fashion retail giant is offering lookalike versions of footwear from Rihanna’s Fenty line for PUMA, specifically for silhouettes that hew a little too closely to its platform-soled Creeper, Bow Slide, and Fur Slide styles, and slapped the copycat retailer with a design patent, trade dress, and copyright infringement lawsuit.
While the case is still ongoing, Forever 21 has won the first round of this messy legal battle which means that it can continue to sell the similar styles in question.
Kering vs Alibaba
Alibaba, the Chinese e-commerce giant, has long been a target for luxury conglomerates, as the online marketplace is often populated with counterfeit goods.
In 2015, Kering (the global luxury group that owns the likes of Gucci and Saint Laurent) filed a lawsuit against Alibaba Group Holding Ltd, contending that the shopping platform had knowingly made it possible for counterfeiters to sell their products throughout the world.
One example cited in the lawsuit was an obvious takedown of a $795 Gucci bag, with the facsimile selling for $2-$5. Kering requested a full halt to counterfeit sales, plus compensative and punitive damages, the latter of which are considered an extra punishment and are awarded when the defendant's behavior is found to be especially harmful.
Since then, Kering has resorted to mediation, backing away from a threat to withdraw from the process after Alibaba founder Jack Ma said that he would rather lose the case than settle. The result? A US court has dismissed a part of Kering’s lawsuit against Alibaba, ruling that Alibaba never actually agreed to carry out unlawful actions with merchants. Obviously, Alibaba is pleased with the decision, but the war continues.
Have you heard? This is how reselling Supreme could you make a millionaire.