Zara and Amiri. One is infamous for stealing designs and its tasteless campaigns, the other is, well, widely-regarded as plain tasteless (at least aesthetically). Now, it’s time to get out the popcorn, because as The Fashion Law reports, the infamous duo find themselves at loggerheads. Talk about Sophie’s choice when picking a side!
If you’ve missed the saga so far, it goes like this: Back in January, Amiri sued Zara to the tune of $3 million, claiming it copied its inexplicably popular AMIRI MX2 jeans and sold them under the name “Combination Skinny Biker jeans.” In the report, the Los Angeles upstart claimed that the Spanish fast-fashion giant had infringed its trade dress rights on the jeans, pointing to the “stretch denim, pleated leather panel detailing, zippered outside thigh pockets, zipper closures at the knee-line, and hand-distressed abrasions throughout.” Before we get to anything, jeans that zip-close at the knee? Wow! Does the idea of plagiarism really register in most people’s minds when the original idea is whack to begin with?
Without getting caught up in the minutiae too much, “trade dress” is a subset of trademark law that refers to the image and overall appearance of a product — think of adidas’ Stan Smith shoe, which recently won a case against a Skechers knock-off. In that instance, the court expressed little doubt that the public would reasonably think the shoes came from the same source, thus it ruled trade dress in The Three Stripes’ favor. Amiri is attempting to employ the same defense for its jeans, but Zara — as no one at all will be surprised to learn — disagrees.
As The Fashion Law outlines, Zara asserts — as one of nine defenses — that Amiri does not have “any protectable trade dress rights [in the jeans design] given that [its] trade dress rights are invalid.” In other words, the high-street titan is claiming trade dress is not a feasible defense in this instance. Why? Because trade dress only applies if the design has the same source-identifying function as a traditional trademark, such as a logo. For example, the courts ruled that the aforementioned Stan Smith had protectable trade dress because its design was recognizable to consumers and not functional. Zara claims the jeans’ design “qualifies, without limitation, as functional, generic, ornamental, and/or not distinctive.” As brilliantly catty as that sounds, one Reddit user points out that “functional” and “generic” are legal terms of art. A trade dress can only be recognized if it’s “distinctive” and “non-functional.” Zara isn’t throwing shade, merely claiming that the jeans don’t meet the legal definitions.
Given brands like Saint Laurent and Balmain have been producing similar styles of jeans long before Amiri arrived on the scene, it’s difficult to see them coming out of this one as the victor. You can’t trademark a look, only a specific design. Not only that, but conglomerates such as Zara are long in the tooth for this kind of thing — it’s not their first rodeo. Still, if there’s one consolation for Amiri, it’s that lawsuit cases can make the best marketing campaigns. In that regard, they’re a winner to some degree. Them, and jeans that zip-close at the knee.